- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2000

Northern Virginia received a big boost Thursday in the efforts to bring a major league baseball franchise to the area with the strongest pitch yet from Gov. James S. Gilmore III to build a ballpark if a team relocates to the region.
In a letter to commissioner Bud Selig that was dated July 5 and released Thursday, Gilmore wrote that the state is committed to working with baseball to come up with a financing plan for a ballpark.
"I want you to know if any team concludes it must relocate, Virginia is ready to work with you and team owners to form a responsible public-private partnership," Gilmore wrote. "I believe that the positive economic impact that baseball can have on Virginia will justify the Commonwealth's participation in this partnership."
On the same day the governor's letter was released, the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority made public a study by a George Mason University professor that concluded a major league franchise in Northern Virginia would generate more than $8.6 billion in total economic impact and that revenue from a ballpark would exceed the bond costs by $153 million.
The area's best prospects for a team had appeared to be in Montreal, where the Expos are on the brink of leaving. New limited partner Jeffrey Loria is feuding with local Montreal owners, and he is expected to buy out their shares to gain control of the franchise. If that happens, it will be difficult for Loria, who has been vilified in the Canadian press, to get the support needed to build a new ballpark in Montreal a requirement by Major League Baseball to keep the franchise there.
However, sources close to MLB said Thursday that the Minnesota Twins are the most likely candidate to relocate. The Twins' efforts to get a ballpark built have failed repeatedly, and the Montreal owners may be reluctant to let Loria, who was brought in last winter to help save the Expos, move so early in his ownership.
They would likely allow a longtime owner like the Twins' Carl Pohlad, who has dealt much longer with economic hardships than Loria, make a deal to move or sell his team to out-of-town buyers.
Ironically, the Twins are the original Washington Senators franchise. The team moved to Minneapolis after the 1960 season, and an expansion Washington franchise began play in 1961.
The Florida Marlins and Oakland Athletics also have been reported as candidates to relocate, though the A's will likely stay on the West Coast and are already exploring the possibility of moving to San Jose/Santa Clara.
No baseball team has moved since the expansion Senators left for Arlington, Texas, to become the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season. But Selig told The Washington Times recently that he would allow a franchise to move if it could prove that staying put would be a financial hardship.
"There's no question that if a club can't make it and demonstrates that it has tried to do everything it can, no question it has to move," Selig told The Times.
Gilmore's letter to Selig is significant because it is in stark contrast to the response baseball officials have received from governments in the areas where franchises are in trouble.
The Twins' efforts to get a new ballpark built have been rebuffed both by the state legislature and voters in a St. Paul referendum last year, and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura has voiced his opposition repeatedly to any government financing for a sports facility. The Twins are also competing with the Minnesota Vikings, who are seeking a new football stadium.
The difference in government response between Virginia and Florida is even wider. Just as the Marlins were hoping to launch a campaign for a cruise tax to help build a new Miami downtown ballpark, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush killed the plan before it even got off the ground when he announced on Opening Day that he opposed the cruise tax.
Gilmore wrote to Selig that baseball would have a welcome partner in Virginia.
"The Virginia General Assembly has expressed strong bipartisan support for Virginia Baseball on several occasions," Gilmore wrote. "In its 2000 session, the General Assembly directed the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority to complete development of a ballpark financing plan. I have asked my Secretary of Finance, Ronald L. Tillett, to work with the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority in evaluating proposals that will represent a sound investment for the Commonwealth."
The economic impact study, done by George Mason professor Stephen S. Fuller, concluded that construction of a ballpark would create 3,384 jobs and the annual operations of the ballpark would result in 3,074 new jobs.
"Major League Baseball will bring more than big league sport and entertainment to Virginia," said authority chairman Michael Frey. "It will create jobs and income, generate spending and produce new revenue for the Commonwealth."
Virginia Baseball, Inc., a group led by telecommunications executive William Collins, has been trying to land a franchise since the 1995 expansion process and had an agreement to purchase the Houston Astros that fall before baseball killed the deal. They have offered to help finance a new ballpark in Northern Virginia, though no site has been selected yet for any such project.
They are competing with a group from the District, led by financier Fred Malek, a former minority investor in the Texas Rangers, which wants to put a team in a new ballpark in the District of Columbia, possibly on a site east of Mount Vernon Square. The recommendation by the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission for financing the ballpark would include personal seat licenses and revenue generated by the ballpark and tax incentives.
In May, District Mayor Anthony Williams contacted Selig by phone to press the District's case for putting a team in Washington.
Any franchise relocation would receive strong opposition by Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who told the Baltimore Sun yesterday that he was confident Selig would not allow a team to move to the Washington-Northern Virginia area, which the Orioles claim as their market and insist that 25 percent of their fan base comes from the Washington region.
"I don't believe anybody in Major League Baseball is discussing or advocating the placement of a baseball franchise 35-40 miles from the Orioles," Angelos told the Sun.
With the consolidation of the two leagues during the off season, Angelos no longer has any veto power over any team moving to the Washington area. Three quarters of the 30 major league owners would have to approve such a move.

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