- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2003

The chairman of the D.C. Council finance committee said yesterday he will not allow the city’s $338.7million ballpark financing bill to go before the full council without a commitment from Major League Baseball to relocate a team in the District.

The committee’s chairman, Jack Evans, expressed frustration with the slow-moving and secretive deliberations on the relocation of the Montreal Expos by MLB. He already was upset by the demands of baseball executives for as much public stadium financing as possible.

“I’m not moving anything relative to this out of my committee without a commitment from baseball,” Evans said. “There is no purpose moving this ahead, raising taxes and so forth, and then have baseball say, ‘Never mind.’ And why does baseball care about the [financing] structure, anyway? If they come, we’re going to build a stadium. We’ve done the convention center. We’ve done the MCI Center. The structure shouldn’t matter to them.

“This thing doesn’t move unless I say so, and I need something from them.”

Evans’ comments place the District in a situation similar to that of Northern Virginia. The commonwealth for months has demanded that MLB award it the Expos on a conditional basis: If baseball indicates it will move a team there, the commonwealth then will resolve its stadium financing and site issues.

Evans had even harsher words for baseball if the relocation decision is delayed for another year.

Next year is an election season for six members of the council, including Evans. And during that time the proposed ballpark financing — the plan calls for taxes on ballpark-related commerce, the gross receipts of large District businesses and the income of baseball players competing in the city — is certain to be even more unpopular and dangerous politically.

“I don’t even want to think about trying to do this next year,” Evans said. “Baseball has one opportunity to come to Washington.”

John McHale, MLB’s chief administrative officer and a key figure on baseball’s relocation committee, declined to comment on the substance of Evans’ remarks yesterday.

McHale and the committee are researching the relocation bids of the District, Northern Virginia and Portland, Ore.

“We are trying to be as current [on the bids] as possible. If that [refusal by Evans to move the bill] continues to be the case, we will forward that information on to the owner-members of the [relocation] committee and the commissioner,” McHale said.

The relocation committee has said it intends to make a recommendation on the Expos’ future by the July 15 All-Star Game.

However, a growing number of industry insiders believe that moving the Expos before the 2005 season would be impossible, and MLB executives are developing contingency plans for the interim period. Those plans include more games next season in Puerto Rico, where the Expos will play 22 “home” games this season.

Evans’ unrest highlights a growing unease within both the District and Northern Virginia about baseball.

Since MLB formed the Expos relocation committee last fall, its process has remained cryptic and at times glacial in pace. With those factors at play, many local politicians have found it difficult to rally behind the baseball push, even when their love of baseball has long been on record. Only Puerto Rico — not the District, Northern Virginia or Portland, Ore. — has a firm financial offer on the table to play host to the Expos next season.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams, the lead figure behind the District’s push to get a baseball team, remains optimistic that the Expos soon will be playing in the area. So, too, were members of his staff and the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority after separate meetings with McHale and two other members of the relocation committee on Friday.

Others remain unconvinced.

“The sort of things that begin to happen when you’re getting close to a deal just aren’t happening,” said a source close to one of the local prospective ownership groups.

Evans was unable to attend Friday’s meeting with the relocation committee, and he said he has no plans to talk to baseball “unless they want to make an appointment and come down here. They need to come see me.”

The principal architects of the Williams ballpark bill — Eric Price, deputy mayor for planning and economic development, and Steve Green, special assistant in Price’s office — declined to respond to Evans’ comments yesterday.

Meanwhile, the prospective ownership group led by District financier Fred Malek has hired Goldman, Sachs & Co. as its financial advisors.

The New York-based powerhouse, which advised on the recent sales of the Boston Red Sox, New York Jets and Cleveland Indians, will assist the Malek group with franchise valuation, financial forecasting and negotiating with MLB. Much of their work, however, will depend on baseball’s relocation intentions.

“This hiring is about doing everything possible to move with speed and intelligence,” Malek said. “These folks really know the territory and, ideally, will help with bringing a team, financing it and helping us so it can succeed.”

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