Baseball for D.C. appears imminent

Orioles seek guarantees in return for Expos' move

Washington could hear today

September 29, 2004|By Ed Waldman and Jon Morgan | Ed Waldman and Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

As Major League Baseball appeared on the brink of announcing a return to the nation's capital, six hours of negotiations yesterday between Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos and the sport's president resulted in significant progress on protecting the club from a new rival 40 miles to the south.

An announcement by baseball officials of their intention to relocate the Montreal Expos to Washington could come as early as today, said District of Columbia Councilman Phil Mendelson, who spoke yesterday with Mark Touhey, chairman of the Washington Sports & Entertainment Commission.

"Mark was sounding like he expects the announcement" today that baseball would be coming to D.C., Mendelson said.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams, Sharon Gang, said, "There is no news, we have no announcement."

But, she added, "We're very, very optimistic."

Major League Baseball spokesman Patrick Courtney said last night that he was unaware of any scheduled announcement.

Bob DuPuy, the point man for the effort to find a new home for the Expos, met yesterday with Angelos and advisers at the owner's downtown law office.

"We exchanged various ideas. It was a civil and constructive discussion. I intend to take those ideas back to the commissioner. And I'll be back in touch with Mr. Angelos," DuPuy said.

Angelos said, "Nothing is completed. It's still a work in progress."

But the broad outlines of a potential deal did emerge. It would include guarantees on the Orioles' revenues, future resale value and the creation of a regional sports network that would broadcast both team's games but funnel most of the revenue to the Orioles for an undetermined number of years.

The District of Columbia has offered to build a publicly financed, $400 million stadium on the Anacostia River waterfront.

In the meeting with Angelos yesterday, baseball's president and chief operating officer continued an effort to address the concerns of the Orioles' financial well-being with a team apparently about to be placed in close proximity.

"The issues that were raised are being approached very responsibly by Major League Baseball," Angelos said. "I expect there to be additional meetings later this week."

DuPuy said, "We discussed conceptually" Angelos' public concerns "with regard to the protection of the community."

Angelos told The Sun on Monday that he would consider dropping his opposition to a team in Washington if a means could be found to protect the Orioles' finances, as well as the state's investment in the publicly financed Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The Maryland Stadium Authority's executive director, Alison L. Asti, who did not attend the talks yesterday, said she was glad to hear Angelos and DuPuy acknowledge the public's stake in the outcome of the negotiations. Because the team pays rent based on a percentage of its revenues, the stadium authority could also suffer from any financial harm the Orioles might incur if forced to share the Washington-Baltimore market.

"We appreciate that it appears that our interests are being considered," Asti said.

Angelos said he has been in touch with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. "I want to protect the city and its well-being. I want to protect the state's investment. And, if we do that, we'll protect the Orioles franchise," he said.

Angelos has long opposed a ballclub in Washington, saying it would eat into his fan base and endanger his franchise. But Monday's statements represented the first time he has indicated publicly that he might be persuaded otherwise.

Attending yesterday's meeting, which began about 12:30 p.m., were Angelos, his attorney Alan Rifkin, as well as Orioles Vice Chairman Joe Foss. Also seen leaving the meeting with DuPuy was Washington attorney William H. Schweitzer, who represents Major League Baseball.

Baseball is eager to strike a deal with Angelos that would eliminate his opposition - legal and otherwise - to a move of the Expos to Washington. The Expos were bought by the sport's other teams in 2002 as a stop-gap measure to keep the foundering club afloat.

The Expos' potential relocation to Washington faces a number of deadlines and hurdles. An agreement with baseball would have to be approved by the district council that, due to its legislative calendar, would like to have the measure introduced before Friday, Gang said.

Work needs to begin soon on renovations of Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, where a renamed Expos team would play beginning next season while a new park is constructed.

Officials are also hoping to get the financing package through the existing council, which is considered more likely to pass it than the one that will likely be seated in January. Three current members who support a new stadium were defeated in the district's recent primary election by candidates opposed to public financing for a stadium.

In addition, Major League Baseball intends to sell the Expos to recoup its investment. In order to maximize the sales price - which some experts say could exceed $300 million - a financing plan from the city will have to be in place, as well as assurances that the Orioles will not challenge the relocation in court.

A bidder will also need to know what if any revenues it will be forced to share with the Orioles as part of any settlement with the team. Baseball has offered to establish a regional sports network to broadcast the games of the Baltimore and Washington teams, and to give the Orioles a preferential distribution of the proceeds.

A move also must be approved by three-quarters of the baseball owners and survive legal challenges by the Expos' former limited partners.

Sun staff writers Ellen Gamerman, Jeff Barker, Peter Schmuck and Paul West contributed to this article.

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