- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 19, 2001

The D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission (DCSEC), operators of RFK Stadium, is nearing an exclusivity agreement with a group led by District financier Fred Malek for use of the stadium if major league baseball returns to the Washington area.

The agreement would bar a rival Northern Virginia bidding group, led by telecommunications executive William Collins, from using the 40-year-old stadium temporarily if he were to acquire a major league franchise. The intent of the DCSEC-Malek agreement is to keep baseball in the District long-term; Malek and his partners aim to locate a team permanently in Washington, while Collins has pursued a team for Northern Virginia since 1994.

The Collins group has held a similar covenant with the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority (VBSA) for three years, locking out any other prospective team owners if and when the authority builds a new baseball stadium in the Commonwealth. But both the Malek and Collins groups planned on using RFK for at least two years while a new stadium was built. RFK, used by the second Senators from 1961 to 1971, can be readied for baseball in under two months and for years has been seen as a key asset separating Washington from other prospective relocation markets.

"We've had an informal relationship with the Malek group for about two years. In order to make the best case to Major League Baseball our very serious intent to have a team here, we felt the need to make the relationship more definitive, more formalized, more permanent," said John Richardson, DCSEC chairman. "In this, we will line up basic principles, create a basic working agreement and hopefully create a real unity of purpose between public and private sectors."

Completion on the agreement is expected within a few weeks.

The Collins group last night insisted the deal would not be injurious to their efforts, even though no other suitable location exists in the area for short-term use. Sources close to the group said they will remind District Mayor Anthony Williams of previous pledges they say he made not to bar the use of RFK.

"That's fine. More power to them," said Mike Scanlon, spokesman for the Collins group.

No money is changing hands in the DCSEC-Malek deal, unlike the Northern Virginia accord in which Collins is a key funder of VBSA operations. But the agreement will call for the sharing of most expenses involved in both playing temporarily at RFK and developing a new stadium.

The deal, however, will not specify a level of public-sector participation in developing a new stadium in the District. Both Richardson and Malek foremost favor building a new stadium near Mount Vernon Square, a project that would cost an estimated $330 million.

Richardson said the agreement is not primarily intended at blocking out Northern Virginia but rather creating the best long-term scenario for the District.

"We don't really see ourselves as competitors to Northern Virginia," he said. "It's two different approaches, and baseball ultimately is going to have to make that choice. If they choose Washington, we want to have everything absolutely ready. If baseball selects Northern Virginia, the suburban model, that's the choice they'll make, and it will then be up to Virginia to make it happen."

The new deal, however, could be particularly useful to Malek. The Boston Red Sox are up for sale among six high-powered bidding groups, and some of the losing parties may ultimately look to Washington. Malek was unavailable for comment last night.

The new exclusivity agreement comes as a pivotal point in Washington's 30-year effort to replace the twice-departed Senators. Major League Baseball is seeking to eliminate two teams before the start of the 2002 season, likely Montreal and Minnesota.

The effort has been severely hamstrung by a players union grievance, a stadium lawsuit in Minnesota and pending legislation on Capitol Hill to roll back the sport's antitrust exemption.

Even with that uncertainty, commissioner Bud Selig has said repeatedly he does not want to relocate teams until the sport creates a more sustainable economic model. That task, in turn, is tied in with now-frosty negotiations with the union over a new collective bargaining agreement.

But both the Collins and Malek groups, as well as politicians from both jurisdictions, have used baseball's state of flux to push their long-held views on the sizable economic possibilities of a Washington-area franchise.

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