- The Washington Times - Friday, September 24, 2004

MILWAUKEE — Major League Baseball’s relocation committee yesterday made a strong case before the game’s executive council to move the Montreal Expos to the District, setting up a decisive vote among the owners next week.

During a three-hour meeting here, a final decision on the beleaguered Expos’ new home was not made, and the committee did not issue a formal recommendation. But several sources familiar with the proceedings say the word unquestionably will arrive before the regular season ends Oct.3 and that the District’s bid retains a strong, if not insurmountable lead for the Expos.

The Expos file has now been handed off to MLB commissioner Bud Selig and the eight-owner executive council, which most likely will convene a conference call vote of all owners. Twenty-one of the other 29 owners must approve a relocation.

“We’re down to the short strokes now,” said one MLB executive present in the meetings.

Said Drayton McLane, Houston Astros owner and a member of the executive council, “I think we’re awfully close to making a decision.”

In Washington, meanwhile, the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission will meet in closed session tonight to approve the memorandum of understanding being negotiated between the city and the relocation committee. While the memorandum is not yet an operative document, the meeting will familiarize the commission board with the terms governing the proposed move of the Expos.

Much of yesterday’s MLB executive council meeting centered on the objections of Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos. Also a member of the executive council, Angelos fears a team in the Washington area will siphon his revenues and render him unable to compete economically.

While Angelos yesterday again stumped on that platform, according to several executives present in the meeting, he almost certainly will be unable to derail a move to greater Washington. Angelos did not comment before or after the meeting, enlisting the help of MLB security staffers to sneak in and out of Selig’s office so as to avoid the media.

“Mr. Angelos certainly made those views known and articulated those very clearly,” said MLB president Bob DuPuy. “Mr. Angelos’ concerns, which are shared by the commissioner and have all along, have always been a serious issue.”

As another attempt to resolve Angelos’ complaints, the executive council brought in Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports and now a television industry consultant. Pilson is aiding MLB executives in finding ways to mollify potential losses in broadcast revenue to the Orioles, most likely through the creation of a new regional sports network to challenge Comcast SportsNet.

Angelos has said he projects more than $30million annually in lost revenue from the presence of a Washington area team, most coming from a reduction of TV and radio rights. By giving Angelos at least part-ownership of a RSN, he would be able to access both distribution and advertising revenues as opposed to just a single rights fee.

“This is something that ought to be explored,” DuPuy said. “There’s no secret that in some potential relocation markets, a RSN could or should be part of the mix.”

Even more fundamental than the protests from Angelos, however, is the offer on the table from District officials: a $440million stadium near the Anacostia River in Southeast, paid for with a combination of sales and use taxes on ballpark-related commerce, lease payments from the team owner and a gross-receipts tax on large District businesses.

The District has held the pole position in the relocation derby for most of the three seasons the Expos have operated under MLB ownership, but the city’s stadium offer now has a very short shelf life. Without an answer on the Expos from MLB within the next two weeks, and perhaps by the end of the next week, the D.C. Council would not have time to renovate RFK Stadium for baseball and consider a stadium financing bill before the end of the year, when the terms of three key supporters on the council end.

“I think we’re all running out of time and we realize that,” DuPuy said. “I’d like to think everybody is on the same wavelength with regard to time. I think we’re talking about a very short window of time to continue to negotiate.”

The Southeast site, located near South Capitol Street and M Street, does present many potential problems involving land acquisition. Several landowners in the area already have said they oppose their property being used for a ballpark. City officials, while retaining power of eminent domain, remain reluctant to use it because of the time and expense involved to litigate the disputes.

DuPuy said yesterday none of the other candidates for the Expos — Northern Virginia; Norfolk; Portland, Ore.; and Las Vegas — has been eliminated. But none of them has conducted nearly as much work on a lease deal as the District.

In Northern Virginia, Gov. Mark Warner has assumed a key role in negotiations with MLB, seeking to sell the relocation committee on a stadium financing structure that does not require backing with the moral obligation of the commonwealth. The committee, however, remains rather insistent on that structure, according to industry sources, and Warner is adamant on using financing that puts the public sector at less risk.

“We’re still very optimistic,” said Gabe Paul Jr., executive director of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority. “Remember, it wasn’t long ago the winds were blowing in Virginia’s direction.”

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