- The Washington Times - Friday, October 11, 2002

D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission chairman John Richardson met yesterday with Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson to discuss Johnson's proposed plan to acquire the Montreal Expos and move the franchise to the District.
Richardson characterized his meeting with Johnson yesterday as "largely an introductory meeting to get to know each other. None of us had met before, so we talked about baseball what the realistic schedule and prospects are to bring baseball to the District.
"He assured us that he is very serious and devoted about bringing baseball back to Washington," Richardson said.
One of the items discussed was the use of RFK Stadium until a ballpark could be built, Richardson said. "They would certainly intend to use RFK if they were the successful candidate for the franchise. "That seems to be his business plan, to use RFK until a new stadium could be built. He was interested in what we have said about getting RFK in condition for use as a ballpark next year. We repeated the same thing we always have, that we could do it in six weeks or so, but the more time we have, the better it will be."
Johnson could not be reached for comment.
The commission currently has an exclusivity agreement with the Washington Baseball Club, the group headed by financier Fred Malek, for the use of RFK Stadium for baseball. The agreement does allow for another group to use the stadium under certain conditions if Major League Baseball chooses another group to own the franchise.
However, the meeting between Richardson and Johnson may have violated the terms of the agreement, which prevents the commission from talking to any other group about using RFK Stadium until January 2004.
Richardson said no further meetings with Johnson are scheduled. Johnson along with Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder has emerged as the third group, along with Virginia Baseball Inc., which wants to put a team in Northern Virginia, that is seeking to bring baseball to the area,
Johnson wants to purchase 51 percent of the Expos currently owned by the 29 existing major league owners leaving baseball with the remaining 49 percent. Over the next three or four years, Johnson and the remainder of his ownership group would purchase the 49 percent share of the team to complete the deal.
Johnson told The Washington Times he has had only "informal conversations with Major League Baseball representatives" about acquiring a franchise and has given them nothing in writing to purchase the Expos, including a bid. As far as his 51 percent plan, Johnson said he "put that concept in the paper."
MLB officials could not be reached for comment on Johnson's plan.
Meanwhile, the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority last night unanimously approved the hiring of Dallas-based architectural firm HKS Inc. to design a baseball stadium for the commonwealth. HKS winning the contract became a formality after rival finalist HOK Sport dropped out of the bidding Wednesday when company officials decided "the potential risk no longer justified our continued participation."
HKS Inc. designed Miller Park in Milwaukee and the Ballpark at Arlington in Texas and enjoys a prior relationship with authority executive director Gabe Paul Jr., who previously was the director of stadium operations for the Milwaukee Brewers. HKS also has been hired to design the Dallas Cowboys' forthcoming stadium.
HKS plans an open-air ballpark seating between 43,000 and 47,000 and probably will incorporate Virginia's colonial tradition of architecture to some degree. Design work will begin soon after a final contract is negotiated and ratified, likely by mid-November.
However, a final design likely will not be done until MLB actually awards a franchise to Northern Virginia. The commonwealth has actively sought a team since 1994 and like the District, is angling to relocate the Expos to the area.
"We're huge believers in this project, and we think this is the premier baseball project in the country right now," said Bryan Trubey, principal of the HKS sports facilities group. "One of the unique things about this area is, once baseball arrives, this stadium will be visited by more people from outside the home area and outside the U.S. than any other in the country. We want to develop a ballpark that will match that challenge."


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