A new plan that would have the District of Columbia fully pay for a $340 million baseball-only park near RFK Stadium might address Major League Baseball's financing concerns but doesn't change a thing, according to Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos.
The plan, first reported in yesterday's Washington Times, is one of several options in Washington's quest to lure the Montreal Expos.
Last year, the city presented a plan to MLB for a $436 million stadium to be built as part of an economic revitalization along New York Avenue, requiring the ownership group to kick in at least $125 million.
The RFK ballpark is the only option that wouldn't call for a private contribution, a demand that MLB has made of the contenders for the team.
But the issue, according to the Orioles, is dividing the region's fan base, not how a stadium is financed.
"That doesn't affect my position," Angelos said yesterday. "I have said it before and I'll say it again: Two major league franchises within 35 miles of each other spells mediocrity for both. Furthermore, I don't think a team is necessary in the District. The Orioles have well served this region for 50 years and will continue to do so."
Chris Bender, a spokesman for Washington Office of Planning and Economic Development, said the stadium would be paid for by taxes on money generated by the ballpark - including tickets, concessions, merchandise and parking - and by a tax on District businesses that have more than $3 million in gross receipts.
Winston Lord, executive director of the Washington Baseball Club, the potential ownership group that is endorsed by the city, said the good news about the RFK site is the appeal of full public financing. The District leases the site from the National Park Service, eliminating land acquisition costs.
"This certainly is something that meets the desires of Major League Baseball," he said.
The bad news about the plan is that it is not anyone's first choice.
"All things being equal, the city and we as an ownership group would prefer the downtown sites," Lord said. "The New York Avenue site would be our preference. But we think RFK is very viable."
Bender and Lord stressed that the RFK plan is only one option. "If we do have the chance to meet with baseball, we're going to be presenting a menu of sites," Bender said.
Spokesman Rich Levin said yesterday that it is Major League Baseball's policy not to comment on bids being made by individual locales. Contenders include Northern Virginia; Norfolk, Va.; Las Vegas; Portland, Ore.; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Monterrey, Mexico.
Bob Johnson, owner of the NBA expansion team that will begin play in Charlotte next season told the Charlotte Observer on Thursday that he wants to help move the Expos to Norfolk so he can televise their games on his new regional sports network.
"Norfolk isn't any anybody's back yard," Johnson said.
MLB officials have had a target of deciding a new home for the Expos by the All-Star Game in July, but Levin said yesterday that the timetable is "by the beginning of next season."