- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 13, 2002

The D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission yesterday completed a two-year deal providing exclusive use of RFK Stadium for baseball to a bidding group led by District financier Fred Malek.
The accord, which also includes provisions for the two sides to jointly develop a new baseball-only stadium in the city, represents one of the District's strongest statements to date about its desire to bring major league baseball back after a 30-year absence.
In the deal, DCSEC pledges to negotiate solely with the Malek group until the end of 2003 all matters relating to Washington baseball, including the short-term use of RFK, development of a new stadium and a long-term lease in that stadium.
In return, Malek will refrain from seeking to own a team anywhere but in the District and will share in all costs related to landing a franchise and building the stadium.
"This is about putting the best foot forward for the city," said Malek, a former owner of the Texas Rangers and close friend of President Bush. "We've always enjoyed a cordial relationship with the city, but there was always a question of where we really were with them in regards to baseball. We've now put a strong team together, and hopefully baseball will take notice."
Malek and his five partners paid no rights fee for the exclusivity to RFK. But they have agreed to pay $200,000 to fund 75 percent of any stadium predevelopment work such as site surveys, architectural renderings and economic development studies. The costs of any such work exceeding $200,000 would be split evenly.
The deal, technically a memorandum of understanding, carries one primary exception. The exclusivity would not apply if commissioner Bud Selig and MLB owners mandate another owner to operate in the District, either by selling a franchise through auction or a prearranged deal.
In that instance, the DCSEC would still require that new owner to give Malek an opportunity to be a part-owner or repay Malek's lost expenses and opportunity costs up to $4million.
A Northern Virginia-based relocation effort for baseball, led by telecommunications executive William Collins, also is not technically barred from using RFK as a result of the new deal. Collins, like Malek, would need to use RFK for at least two years while a new stadium is built.
But District officials will in no way promote the Northern Virginia lobby or RFK's availability to them.
"We're sending a message that is as unified and strong as possible: that the District is the best place for baseball, and there is a public-private partnership firmly in place able to make that happen," said Bobby Goldwater, DCSEC executive director.
The Collins group has held a similar covenant with the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority for three years, locking out any other prospective team owners if and when the authority builds a new baseball stadium in the commonwealth.
Both Malek and the DCSEC are now eyeing baseball returning to the area in 2003 at the earliest. The 40-year-old RFK Stadium can be readied for baseball in less than two months. And the Montreal Expos probably will be without an owner come Wednesday when Florida owner John Henry likely will receive approval of his $700million purchase of the Boston Red Sox and Montreal owner Jeffrey Loria will complete a deal to buy the Marlins from Henry.
That game of ownership musical chairs will mean, barring any surprise developments, that the Expos will be eliminated or run by the league this season. The owners voted in November to contract two teams, likely Montreal and Minnesota, but that process has been severely hamstrung by a union grievance and stadium lawsuit in Minnesota holding the Twins to the Metrodome for 2002.
Selig, however, has no interest in relocating any team before striking a new labor deal with the players, and creating a more workable economic system for baseball in the process. Negotiations toward that labor deal began last week, but agreement is likely months away at a minimum.
"Baseball could certainly save themselves a lot of money by selling [the Expos] to us," Malek said. "But we have to remain patient."
No immediate action is expected from Major League Baseball as a result of the DCSEC-Malek accord.
"We're aware of the agreement. We haven't received the full document yet, but when we do, it will be forwarded on [to Selig]," said Corey Busch, MLB's point man on relocation. "That's all normally part of keeping up with what's happening in all our prospective [relocation] markets. But I wouldn't want to comment further now."
Both Malek and DCSEC ideally would like to see a new stadium located near Mount Vernon Square, with a site adjacent to RFK as a fallback. In either instance, the cost would range between $330million and $400million. In a letter sent to Busch in November, District Mayor Anthony Williams pledged to contribute as much as $200million in land, tax incentive financing and enterprise zone bond financing.
That funding would require the approval of the D.C. City Council.
Malek's group, with a collective net worth in excess of $1billion, would likely fund the rest, with some federal involvement possible if the stadium serves as some type of memorial. Malek's investors include AOL founder Jim Kimsey, area developer Joe Robert, Fannie Mae chairman Franklin Raines and District attorneys Stephen Porter and Paul Wolff.

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