Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Major League Baseball’s relocation committee will return to the District today for the latest in a series of negotiations D.C. officials hope will lead to the Montreal Expos moving to the city.

MLB executives also plan to meet with Northern Virginia representatives tomorrow. And while baseball repeatedly has missed deadlines in its troubled three-year ownership of the Expos, the latest meetings are ideally designed to produce a stadium financing plan MLB can accept at last and have been described by both localities as a critical step in the process.

“What we hope to get out of this, obviously, is a sense of where baseball is in their deliberations and when [the relocation decision will arrive],” said Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission. “The contact with baseball has been very thorough, very professional. I expect more of the same.”

Leading baseball’s delegation will be MLB President Bob DuPuy and Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, both key figures on the relocation committee. Mayor Anthony Williams is expected to lead a group of District officials. The city’s meeting will be a smaller affair than a May gathering at One Judiciary Square that included most of the relocation committee, several D.C. Council members and numerous government staffers and attorneys.

While frustration is mounting both locally and across baseball over the much-delayed Expos move, both local stadium bids have holes in them, a sentiment again amplified last week when DuPuy said, “There’s nothing we can tie a ribbon around and sign.”

The District, which has not publicly released its updated financing plan, is working on re-establishing a tax on large city businesses for its ballpark financing to supplement revenue bonds backed by ballpark-related sales taxes. Northern Virginia, meanwhile, is working against established development trends with its proposal to build a stadium in the suburbs near Dulles International Airport. The majority of land needed to build the proposed 450-acre complex is not under control of developers working with the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority.

That said, MLB executives in recent weeks have begun substantive lease negotiations with both the District and Northern Virginia, which area officials hope to advance considerably this week. The Washington area is widely seen as the front-runner in the Expos chase, and amid the ongoing delays, MLB officials still vow a move in time for the 2005 season.

Officials for the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, leading Northern Virginia’s talks with MLB, declined to comment. The authority and relocation committee last met Aug.5, conferring on both land and financing elements to the proposed stadium deal.

MLB also will meet with Las Vegas and Norfolk, likely by the end of the week.

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