During nearly all of Washington’s 31-year quest to regain a club, Major League Baseball officials have reversed the old hurry-up-and-wait adage. Local politicians, prospective owners, civic leaders and ordinary fans have waited, waited again and then waited some more.
Now the hurrying up is upon us. MLB’s new committee to move the Montreal Expos in time for the 2004 season will invite prospective locales including the District, Northern Virginia and Portland, Ore. to make their definitive pitches in late winter or early spring.
That gives those locales about 90 days to piece together a meaningful package to baseball on where a new stadium could go, how it will be paid for and how each city intends to turn the long-struggling Expos into a success.
During last Wednesday’s D.C. Council meeting on baseball, Bobby Goldwater, D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission president and executive director, offered a nine-point blueprint to make those preparations. Some of the themes are quite broad, and some overlap; Goldwater chose nine points to correspond to nine innings in a ballgame. But Goldwater’s plan obviously tailored to the District marks the first serious and public attempt to delineate everything MLB leaders want to see before their historic relocation decision is made.
Here is Goldwater’s rundown:
Refine stadium site plans. The sports commission and the District bid group led by financier Fred Malek last month submitted to MLB a list of five prospective stadium sites: two spots along Massachusetts Ave. NW between Mount Vernon Square and Union Station, a location near the Southeast Federal Center and District waterfront, the RFK Stadium property and land north of Union Station near New York Avenue NE.
The Mount Vernon Square site long has been favored by District baseball advocates as the closest, most central location to downtown. But City Councilman Jack Evans last week sounded pessimistic on the need for a ballpark in that fast-growing area, and community opposition and overall costs for that site are both expected to be the highest of any proposed District site. Evans, head of the Council’s finance committee, also spoke disapprovingly of the RFK site.
“At the end of the day, we need to get to one site,” Goldwater said. “How fast that exactly happens will in part depend on [MLB], but the winnowing of sites is an evolving, continuing process.”
Determine a stadium financing plan. This stands as the biggest hurdle for any prospective home for baseball. Evans and fellow Councilman Harold Brazil said last week that no general fund monies will be used for a ballpark. That puts the District in a similar situation as Northern Virginia, with both likely relying heavily on public sector bonding power, with the still-unmet challenge being to identify and isolate baseball-related revenue sufficient to service those bonds.
Create a plan to refurbish RFK for baseball. The sports commission has long said the stadium could be ready for baseball with as little as six weeks’ notice. The Malek group has hired an outside consultant to create its own blueprint for baseball at RFK. Cost estimates for such a project vary widely, though $25million is the number most commonly circulated. Both sides agree the stadium, which would house a Washington area team for at least two years and more likely three, needs quite a bit of work.
Determine major public policy principles for building a stadium. Brazil and Evans delivered the first guiding principle last week with their no-general-funds edict. Bid efforts in both the District and Northern Virginia long have insisted that a stadium needs to be located near Metro and major highways. Beyond that, absolute mantras that will guide development remain undetermined.
Refresh market data. In the District’s stadium site evaluation report, the sports commission and Malek group enumerated the Washington area’s explosive growth in population, business activity and spending power since the second Senators team left in 1971. The data in that report, however, remained fairly general; more specific information, such as prospective luxury seat sales, will be needed when the cities meet with MLB’s relocation committee.
The District and Northern Virginia also will need to address the Baltimore Orioles. Studies in the District and particularly Northern Virginia have argued the Washington area contributes far less than the 25 percent of Baltimore’s fan base that Orioles owner Peter Angelos claims. Angelos also contends a Washington area team would cut his broadcast revenues by more than half.
“There’s no doubt we will need to address the Orioles,” Goldwater said. “We have, however, in the past made our work on that issue public. Northern Virginia has made their work on that issue public. The Orioles have chosen to make not much of anything public.”
Engage and involve Congress. Nearly everyone involved in the District’s baseball effort agree that getting the federal government actively involved would be helpful, both in terms of visibility and potentially dollars to help build a stadium. To date, however, no significant discussions with key Congressional leaders, such as Sen.Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee for the District, have occurred.
Involve the public. The sports commission and Malek group have done a strong job on this point in the past year, holding two open forums on stadium sites and continually inviting feedback online. This attitude, however, conflicts with the stance of MLB’s Expos relocation committee, which aims to keep its work as private as possible.
“I do believe both can co-exist. The public is a crucial element in this process, and I don’t see that changing,” Goldwater said. “Having said that, there will be times that to make a deal, information will have to remain between the [negotiating] parties.”
Create broad promotion for Washington. This also is a delicate balance. Local officials like Goldwater and District Mayor Anthony Williams believe that Washington’s story is not being sufficiently told to baseball. They also want to be respectful of the process now being created by the Expos relocation committee.
“This isn’t about parades and fireworks. Now’s not the time for that,” Goldwater said. “But we still have to go out and actively sell our story. It’s as simple as that.”
Develop a winning presentation for MLB. Similar to the U.S. Olympic Committee’s recent evaluation of candidate cities for the 2012 Summer Olympics, the Expos relocation committee will ask each invited locale to make a formal presentation likely lasting one to two hours. That presentation will be followed by a lengthy series of detailed questions. It’s that pressure-packed, closed-door session that likely will hold the most weight as to whether the Washington area gets a team.
“If we can live up to the quality of our Olympic presentation, I’d be very pleased,” Goldwater said. “We obviously didn’t win, but I still stand behind the presentation we made and the message behind it. We made a very compelling case, and I look forward to doing it again for baseball.”
These nine tasks almost will certainly change once more formal direction arrives from the Expos relocation committee. But Goldwater believes he has hit most of the key points already.
“We’re still waiting for our homework assignment from baseball,” he said. “Either way, there’s lots to do. We have a challenge in front of us, but this is what we’ve being waiting for. The process is finally moving in very real ways.”