Greed at root of Ravens' lingering spat with Pratt

February 19, 2002|By Michael Olesker

AS THE RAVENS search for another $105 million corporate sucker to plaster its name atop the Baltimore football stadium, City Comptroller Joan Pratt searches for the ball club's institutional conscience. The Ravens figure it's worth $1. Pratt says $200,000. This leaves not only a difference of $199,999, but a question of greed.

When the former Cleveland Browns first slipped into town, and PSINet was just an overhyped company speeding toward a financial cliff from which to heave itself, the Ravens struck a deal to use the old Baltimore Colts practice facility, owned by the city but in Owings Mills.

The arrangement, one of a number of sweetheart deals, was simple and exceedingly generous. The Ravens would lease the facility for $1 for five years. But the five years ended in April. When Pratt approached Ravens executive David Modell about paying a fair market value, she says, Modell brushed her off.

"When they won the championship last year," Pratt said yesterday, "I was trying to get them to work with me. David Modell said, `Look, we won the championship, let's not put a damper on the enthusiasm right now by bringing up leases.'

"And I said OK, because I certainly didn't want to make them look bad at such a happy time. I figured I'd give them some leeway. But they just kept stalling. They try to make you think they'll work with you, and they don't. It's a stonewall. And eventually they'll be moving to this new practice facility they're talking about, and we won't have anything at all for the use of the Owings Mills property."

David Modell could not be reached yesterday, and Michael D. Colglazier, attorney for the team, did not return a telephone call. But three weeks ago, Pratt laid out the problems in a letter to Ravens owner Art Modell -- and, last week, Colglazier sent a letter to Pratt that landed like a stiff-arm to the head.

In Pratt's letter to Modell, she wrote:

"My office has made several attempts to enter into a fair market value lease with the Ravens for ... an amount of $200,000 per year. Your organization has had this appraisal for several months and my office still has not been able to even begin discussions on a lease that expired several months ago. We have given your attorney, Mr. Colglazier, every opportunity to get this matter resolved. Our attempts have been fruitless."

Last week, in Colglazier's letter to Pratt, he wrote:

"Your correspondence comes as some surprise to the Ravens. The last correspondence we had from your office was dated July 17, 2001, in which you advised that your `efforts to amicably resolve this matter' would cease as of July 23, 2001."

Yesterday, Pratt said, "That's a lie. That's absolutely a lie. I've been telling them and telling them, and I've tried to be nice and work with them. And I was assuming they would act in good faith, and now it's become clear that they're not, that it was all a stall tactic."

Some would see this as part of a continuing pathology: Baltimore gives, and the Ravens take. The Ravens were gifted with a ballpark that cost about $229 million. They paid for absolutely none of it. But they collect enormously on its continuing financial benefits -- including such unanticipated (by fans) items as personal seat licenses, and the $105 million stadium-naming deal that officially went bottom-up last week when the crumbling PSINet bailed out, acknowledging that it could no longer pay the freight.

The Ravens will look for some other corporate chump to take over the stadium name.

Nobody seems to understand the blemish that such cashing-in represents around here. It's insulting to fans, whose dollars built the stadium, and who always had ballparks here honoring the home club (Oriole Park at Camden Yards) or, even more meaningfully, memorializing our war dead (Memorial Stadium).

Those corporations who consider springing for the big bucks think they're getting an advertising vehicle. They are -- but it's negative advertising. Fans who entered the former PSINet Stadium (or could pronounce it) never thought of the name, or the corporation, in a positive way. After $229 million of our money went into the park, it might have been nice to have a name with some community connection, some emotional tie.

And that brings us back to the Owings Mills training facility -- and that community relationship. With all those millions they take in, the Ravens look cheap trying to dodge a fair-market $200,000. They've actually offered two alternatives: the existing $1 a year for the city, or $125,000 that they say they'll give to charity.

What's more, they've tried to bypass Pratt and deal directly with the mayor's office.

"It's my job to handle this negotiation," Pratt said, "and it's my authority as comptroller to collect a fair rent -- not let the Ravens decide where they'll send the money, or what kind of cut-rate amount. They need to pay fair market value for the facility."

It's a question of money -- and of conscience.

The city says it's worth $200,000. The Ravens say it's $1. They mean the value of the field -- or, maybe, the value of their conscience.

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