- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Major League Baseball’s relocation committee will meet with District Mayor Anthony A. Williams and key city officials Thursday to discuss Washington’s revised proposal for baseball.

The plan, first reported last month by The Washington Times, calls for the city fully to fund a stadium on the grounds of RFK Stadium for $340million. Funds would come primarily from revenue bonds serviced by ballpark-related sales taxes and a reintroduction of the gross-receipts tax on large businesses used to help construct MCI Center.

Also to be presented to MLB are three prospective ballpark sites closer to downtown. But each likely will be considerably more expensive than the RFK property and also would require private capital from an incoming team owner.

The meeting, sought by District officials for weeks, aims to provide a persuasive argument as the relocation committee at last hones in on a decision for the orphaned Montreal Expos. After more than two years of delays and indecision, $60million in operating losses and a gutted roster, MLB intends to make its relocation choice sometime this summer.

“They offered to come down here. We’re very encouraged,” said Bill Hall, a member of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission. “We are confident they will find our proposal very appealing. We’re at a historic point. We’re knocking on the door after more than 32 years [without baseball]. And [MLB commissioner] Bud Selig has made it as clear as he possibly can that they are now going to move this team.”

Among those expected to represent the relocation committee Thursday are influential members Jerry Reinsdorf, the Chicago White Sox’s owner, and Tom Hicks, the Texas Rangers’ owner.

The relocation committee and MLB owners then will meet May 19-20 in New York, with the Expos’ future holding a prominent spot on the agenda.

Meanwhile, Northern Virginia baseball boosters recently have conducted their own meetings with baseball. Authority officials yesterday declined to discuss the substance of those sessions, but like the District, the commonwealth presented its own revised stadium development proposal. The new package calls for investment capital from private developers to buttress funding from revenue bonds, a fairly new wrinkle not being pursued by the other cities competing for the Expos.

The overarching goal is to reduce the upfront investment in stadium construction by an incoming team owner. MLB executives want as little owner capital — ideally none — as possible going toward a stadium to maximize the purchase price for the Expos.

The new Virginia plan additionally calls for a team owner to help fund a stadium through annual lease payments rather than an upfront lump sum. The District is proposing a similar structure for its three downtown site options: New York Avenue Northeast, M Street Southeast and the current site of Benjamin Banneker Park in Southwest.

Still undetermined in Northern Virginia, however, is a viable stadium site. The five prospective sites announced last year all have run into considerable government and/or landowner resistance. Authority officials said in March they were investigating potential sites not on their original list but staunchly refused to disclose any specific locations. Prospective team owner William Collins III said recently he is not actively pursuing a site in Arlington County, which last summer asked the authority to look elsewhere to build a ballpark.

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