- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder yesterday said he is seeking to work with the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority on bringing a major league baseball team to the commonwealth. The likelihood of him crashing the 8-year-old local baseball party, however, remains small. Authority officials refused to characterize the Snyder talks as substantive.

William Collins, chairman of the Virginia Baseball Club, said again yesterday his group has a deal to continue as the commonwealth's preferred baseball ownership group into 2007. The current pact between Collins and the authority expires May 31.

Snyder, meeting yesterday with Associated Press editors and reporters, told that agency he and partner Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, have contacted the authority and want to own a local MLB team once the sport settles a nasty labor dispute between team owners and players.

Gabe Paul, authority executive director, yesterday acknowledged talks with Snyder, as well as several other parties seeking to own a Virginia-based team. Paul declined to place a number on the suitors, but an industry source last night said rival bidders have been "sprouting like mushrooms."

"We have talked to Dan Snyder. We've had calls and have talked to a number of people," Paul said. "But I wouldn't characterize that as negotiations. We are not in negotiations with anyone [besides Collins]."

Collins yesterday reiterated his comments to The Washington Times from earlier this week and is working to finalize the extension of his exclusivity with the state. His group has paid $3.6 million in grants and loans since 1997 for those rights. District financier Fred Malek and his partners have a similar accord with the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission.

"We have a [new] deal negotiated and in place," Collins said. "But if Gabe has been out seriously talking to other people, there is a provision in our existing agreement that prohibits that."

The authority board has yet to ratify the contract extension, and an independent review of the financial wherewithal of Collins and his partners is now being completed, Paul said. A meeting between the two parties is scheduled for May 30, likely to sign the final documents.

Snyder's pursuit of the authority highlights an ongoing reorganization of the relationship between Collins' group and the authority. Collins wants to see the organization spend less time on market research and directly lobbying Major League Baseball and more time helping draft a stadium plan. The authority, in similar fashion, has been taking a hard look at Collins to make sure he's the person to stay with as baseball perhaps grows closer to returning to the area.

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