Friday, July 9, 2004

Major League Baseball’s relocation committee will meet with District officials later this month in Washington to discuss financing options and construction schedules for a proposed ballpark, marking perhaps the most detailed session in the city’s long quest for baseball.

An exact date for the session is being kept under wraps, but it follows a high-level meeting May6 at One Judiciary Square. During that meeting, Mayor Anthony Williams and other city officials presented the city’s revised proposal to relocate the Montreal Expos, and received assurances from the relocation committee the objections of the Baltimore Orioles on Washington-area baseball would not be a factor.

Those assurances have since been clouded by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, who remains deeply concerned about the potential impact upon the Orioles.

Nonetheless, expectations are high within the District that a long-delayed decision on the future home of the Expos will arrive within a matter of weeks. Several of the other bidders for the Expos do not expect such a quick timetable, but most do think a choice will be made by the fall.

“We’re very optimistic, and expect this to be settled in the next three, four weeks,” said Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission.

Industry sources said yesterday the committee will likely seek to meet with Northern Virginia’s baseball lobby as well before the end of July. Since the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority disclosed to MLB in May its plan to build a ballpark and large commercial development near Dulles International Airport, the District and Northern Virginia have been widely seen as the clear favorites to land the Expos. That belief has fueled an increasingly testy rivalry between the two jurisdictions.

“We are in ongoing contact and communication with [MLB] and the relocation committee, and are very optimistic about the process,” said Brian Hannigan, stadium authority spokesman.

Both the District and Northern Virginia will send representatives to Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Houston to seek additional support for their bids. The District’s contingent will likely be led by Williams, while the commonwealth will send a large group of people from the stadium authority and prospective ownership group led by William Collins III.

Financing details for the proposed District ballpark, projected to cost between $278million and $383million, have not been released publicly. But the funding will rely foremost on a combination of taxes on ballpark-related commerce, and taxes on the personal property and gross receipts of large District businesses.

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