- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

PHOENIX District officials yesterday asked members of Major League Baseball's relocation committee to make a stronger commitment to placing the Montreal Expos in Washington before final legislation must be approved for ballpark financing.
After more than two hours of presentation and discussion at Bank One Ballpark with the committee formed by MLB to determine the Expos' fate, members of the District delegation emerged feeling optimistic about the day's events.
"It was a positive reception," said Eric Price, deputy mayor for planning and economic development.
Price said the District group made it clear to baseball officials that legislation to finance about two-thirds of a proposed $400million ballpark would have a better chance for approval if baseball first indicated that the franchise currently owned by the 29 other major league owners would be moved to the District.
"We told them that would be helpful," Price said. "We would not need that to introduce legislation, but the more certainty we could have about a team, the better that would be for the process."
A similar pitch was made by Northern Virginia officials during the first round of meetings in New York in January. In those sessions, the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority asked MLB for a "conditional award" of the franchise, to "get our final pieces in place," authority executive director Gabe Paul said.
This morning the Virginia delegation will have its meeting with relocation committee members. Yesterday Wendy Selig-Prieb, owner of the Milwaukee Brewers; Tom Hicks, owner of the Texas Rangers; and Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox, attended the meeting with District officials, as well as MLB president Bob DuPuy; executive vice president John McHale; and Corey Busch, commissioner Bud Selig's point man on studying relocation sites. None of them were available for comment after the meeting.
They heard details about the District's plan to come up with an estimated $275million about two-thirds of a ballpark's cost in public financing for the facility, through taxes on players' salaries, a ballpark-related sales tax and a gross receipts tax assessed on large D.C. businesses.
But committee members also heard that legislation allowing for such financing probably would not be approved until July.
"The process that we laid out for them was to try to get legislation passed by July of this year," Price said. "We told them that mid-April was the point that we would be looking to begin that process."
That would only include the part of the financing that requires D.C. Council approval. Approval for the tax on player's salaries would require Congressional approval, and that timetable was not discussed, Price said.
"We would have to amend the District charter, and Congress would have to approve it," he said. "That process has not started with Congress, but discussions have started between the mayor's office and Congressional leaders."
Baseball officials have said they hope to make a decision by the All-Star break in July on the future of the Expos. They also have indicated a sense of urgency over having government financing approved and in place. In New York last week, DuPuy told reporters he would like to see stadium legislation passed by any community seeking a team by "yesterday."
Mayor Anthony A. Williams and D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp had been scheduled to attend yesterday's meeting but had to remain home when the war began. Both spoke to the relocation committee through video conferencing.
Representing the District were Price; Bobby Goldwater, executive director of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission; City Councilman Harold Brazil; John Richardson, chairman of the Sports and Entertainment Commission; commission member Bill Hall; Stephen Green, special assistant in the city office for planning and economic development; Terry Golden, chairman of the Federal City Council; William Hanbury, president of the Washington Convention and Tourism Corp.; Marc Ellin of the Grand Hyatt in Washington; and several city staff members and financial consultants.
Goldwater said no other meetings were scheduled but he anticipated more sessions would take place, including a visit by committee members to the District.
Officials from the other city under consideration by the committee for franchise relocation, Portland, Ore., were scheduled to meet with MLB officials last night.

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