Speros to hear offer in Houston 'A decision is near,' Stallions owner says

January 04, 1996|By Kevin Eck | Kevin Eck,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Stallions owner Jim Speros traveled to Houston yesterday, where he will be joined tomorrow by coach Don Matthews and Canadian Football League commissioner Larry Smith in a meeting with Astrodome management, city officials and local businessmen about a deal to bring the team there for next season.

"A decision is near," said Speros, who is considering relocating because of the NFL Browns' tentative move from Cleveland to Baltimore. "Houston has shown quite a bit of interest. I'm definitely looking forward to the meetings and what they have to offer."

The Stallions' season-ticket drive here, which had a target of 20,000, was scheduled to end tomorrow, but Speros is extending it to Monday. As of Tuesday, Speros said, 12,000 season tickets had been sold.

"We do have an opportunity to play at the Astrodome," Speros said, "but we have to sit down and talk about the terms of a lease. Verbally, we have talked about a lot of things, but we have nothing in writing on a lease. I'd like to leave there knowing my options."

A move of the Stallions to Houston would fill the football void created by the NFL Oilers' proposed move to Nashville, Tenn.

Speros, who also expects proposals from Richmond, Va., and Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley by his Monday deadline, stressed that a final decision on where the team will play next season would not be made until next week, and he reiterated that there is still a possibility the Grey Cup champions would remain in Baltimore.

Last week, however, Speros told the Richmond-Times Dispatch that "with each passing day, it doesn't look good that we'll be staying in Baltimore."

Speros will meet with Baltimore city officials Monday to discuss the team's future here.

"We'll need some type of commitment that will keep us here in town," said Speros, who has yet to receive a promise of financial help from the city or state. "They have to come up with some concession to help my bottom line for me to financially make it."

He added that he will announce his decision Tuesday but that Baltimore will be given a chance to respond before anything is final.

During his stay in Houston, Speros will have his first meeting with Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr., who runs the Astrodome. Speros also is expected to meet with potential investors at the home of David Sapperstein, the Houston businessman who initiated the talks with Speros.

Speros said that he wanted Smith and Matthews there to offer their input on specific topics.

"I wouldn't want to make a final decision without these guys being involved," Speros said. "Larry Smith has to make sure a lease can be negotiated that will be favorable to the CFL."

As for Matthews, who also is the team's director of football operations, Speros asked him to make the trip to evaluate the locker room and practice facilities at the Astrodome.

Houston appears to have the edge over the Stallions' other suitors because of the Astrodome's size (59,969 capacity for football) and name recognition.

"Houston is the only place that has the venue, and that's a major advantage over the other two," said Speros, who owns the rights to hold the 1997 Grey Cup. "The other CFL owners all know the Astrodome and where Houston is."

Speros has told Richmond officials that the University of Richmond Stadium (22,611 capacity) would have to be refurbished with an expanded capacity of 30,000 for him to consider playing there.

Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley (which includes cities such as Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton) is a late entry in the relocation picture.

Speros met with North Hampton County Executive Bill Brackvill last week to discuss the possibility of a privately funded football stadium being built there.

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