Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Major League Baseball’s relocation committee will make another trip to the Washington area this week to meet with officials on both sides of the Potomac River to discuss their respective bids for the Montreal Expos.

The panel will repeat a trip made Aug. 24-25 but this time will reverse the order. Northern Virginia will go first today, with the District following tomorrow. Like those sessions three weeks ago, the new meetings will delve deep into each jurisdiction’s proposed plan to finance a new ballpark for the Expos and negotiate detailed lease terms for the use of that ballpark.

Officials from both the District and Northern Virginia declined to comment yesterday on the upcoming sessions. But several industry sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed the meetings.

“It’s very substantive stuff that’s going on,” one source said. “There’s a lot of back and forth still happening.”

As always with MLB, the potential date for the long-awaited decision on the Expos is ever-changing. The latest hope is by the end of the September, which would still allow for baseball’s cherished postseason to go on without major distractions. But that date was pushed back from early September, the owners meetings in August before that and the All-Star Game in July before that.

What is clearer, however, is baseball’s energies continue to be focused on the Washington area. The other areas competing for the Expos — Norfolk; Portland, Ore.; Las Vegas; and Monterrey, Mexico — have not been officially eliminated. However, it has been weeks since any of them received significant attention from MLB executives.

There are divisions in baseball over which of the two local bids is best. Many relocation committee members prefer the District and its attempt to continue the trend of successful urban ballparks, but Northern Virginia’s bid to build a stadium in Loudoun County presents greater distance from the Baltimore Orioles and owner Peter Angelos.

The ongoing delays, however, continue to compromise plans that must be made to prepare the Expos for Opening Day next spring in their new home. On top of hundreds of decisions that must be made on the business side — staffing, marketing and negotiating broadcast contracts — the biggest issue is RFK Stadium. The 43-year-old facility needs four to six months of preparation to be ready for baseball. Work cannot begin in earnest until funding is authorized.

In the District, that means winning the Expos derby and then passing an overall stadium bill through the D.C. Council. If MLB picks Northern Virginia, it means going back to the District and conducting difficult negotiations with the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission for a lease deal.

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