- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

A six-person group leading efforts to bring baseball back to Washington yesterday told Major League Baseball's relocation committee that the District stands as the sport's best option for the long-struggling Montreal Expos.
The District contingent meeting with the relocation committee in New York, led by D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, in turn received yet another clear message that a viable stadium plan remains paramount in baseball's relocation efforts. That stadium plan, complete with a clear outline for public sector financing, will be due when each candidate city gives a much more formal presentation to the committee in early spring.
The relocation committee is leading baseball's efforts to find a new home for the Expos, who are owned and operated by MLB owners.
"This was a very good exchange of information and, by design, an introductory meeting," said Bobby Goldwater, executive director of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission. "We didn't get the full homework assignment [for a stadium financing and site plan] that we might have expected, but that is soon to come. We talked a lot about ideas we have for making baseball work in Washington. We talked about a lot about ideas and options for funding and sites. We, the mayor in particular, talked a lot about the progress we've made throughout the city."
Also representing the District were sports commission chairman John Richardson; City Council chairman Linda Cropp; Eric Price, deputy mayor for planning and economic development; and Steve Green, a special assistant in Price's office.
Northern Virginia's six-person group, led by secretary of commerce and trade Michael Schewel, will meet with the relocation committee today. The relocation committee is meeting only with city officials now and not prospective ownership groups in order to first determine the best new city for the Expos.
A group from Portland, Ore., also met yesterday with MLB's relocation committee, and is widely seen as the Washington area's chief rival for the Expos. No jurisdictions beyond that city, the District and Northern Virginia are believed to have meetings scheduled with the relocation committee, though the panel has studied many other potential markets for baseball.
The D.C. sports commission and a prospective ownership group led by financier Fred Malek have identified five potential stadium sites in the city: three in downtown Washington near Mount Vernon Square and Union Station, the RFK Stadium property, and one near the District waterfront in Southwest. Projected costs range from $342million to $542million.
The District's clear challenge now is to develop a viable stadium plan within the next two months. Similar to many other communities, the city likely will rely heavily on public sector bonds funded by ballpark-related revenue, such as taxes levied on tickets, parking and ballplayer salaries. A recently closed budget deficit of more than $300million and ongoing economic weakness remain significant fiscal hurdles, however.
MLB has owned the Expos since purchasing the club from Jeffrey Loria a year ago for $120million, and it represents a significant financial drain. When the relocation committee was formed in November, the stated goal was to identify the club's future home by July and immediately begin preparing to move before the 2004 season.
Commissioner Bud Selig, however, now is no longer guaranteeing that the Expos will leave Montreal in time for 2004, meaning a third season under MLB control is possible.
The potential for further delay is already taxing the patience of many fans and advocates for baseball in both greater Washington and Portland. But baseball executives remain quite fearful of another botched entry into a new market, resulting in another weak franchise similar to those in Miami and Tampa, Fla.
The Expos will play 22 of 81 home games this season in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in attempt to generate some additional revenue and boost baseball's international marketing efforts.
MLB officials declined comment yesterday on the meetings.

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