- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

The District will make its first appearance before Major League Baseball's relocation committee Tuesday in New York, with Northern Virginia to follow a day later.

The sessions with the panel charged with helping determine the Montreal Expos' future home are designed to be introductory and ones in which local officials will receive clearer instructions for compiling a formal bid and stadium financing plan for the long-struggling Expos. But with first impressions critical and baseball remaining in many ways a tough-to-join fraternity, next week's meetings are being treated with great importance.

"This is a significant step," said Bobby Goldwater, executive director of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission. "We look forward to providing some information to the committee about the District, where our efforts stand, and receiving a lot of information back."

Representing the District will be Mayor Anthony Williams; City Council chairman Linda Cropp; sports commission chairman John Richardson; Goldwater; Eric Price, deputy mayor for planning and economic development; and Steve Green, a special assistant in Price's office.

Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority executive director Gabe Paul is still compiling the six-person lineup to represent the commonwealth, with the ongoing General Assembly complicating that effort somewhat. Prospective team owners have not been invited because the relocation committee first wants to assess each city's true capacity and desire to support the Expos.

The meetings are the first with any prospective locales since commissioner Bud Selig and team owners formed the relocation committee two months ago. The Expos are owned and operated by MLB, and the club's heavy annual losses represent a direct economic drain on MLB owners. But Selig said last week the original goal of moving the Expos in time for the 2004 season may not be met.

"We hope to move very quickly on this, but nothing is for certain," Selig said. "We haven't even set up all the procedures on how we're doing this."

Other competitors for the Expos include Portland, Ore., and Charlotte, N.C. Formal presentations from each city will be made before the committee in late February or March.

One thing certain to emerge from next week's meetings is a much clearer picture of MLB's requirements for a new stadium. Baseball ideally would like a clear plan from each candidate on where a stadium would be located and sources of public sector funding. The District has publicly identified five potential stadium sites three in downtown Washington, the RFK Stadium property and a location near the District waterfront while Northern Virginia has publicly identified none. Both jurisdictions have quietly attempted to identify public sector funding sources for a ballpark while government officials struggle with budget deficits.

The Expos will play 22 of 81 home games in San Juan this coming season, an attempt to shave the team's losses while expanding MLB's international presence.

The eight-person relocation committee is chaired by Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and includes MLB president Bob DuPuy and several other baseball executives.


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