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Baseball: expos move to dc hits snag

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posted on Dec, 15 2004 @ 06:15 AM
Expos' move to Washington could come apart over ballpark financing

By BRETT ZONGKER, Associated Press Writer
December 15, 2004

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Baseball fans in the nation's capital might not have long to cheer their new team.

The District of Columbia Council voted 7-6 Tuesday night to approve legislation that would finance construction of a ballpark. But it contained a provision that could cause the baseball commissioner's office to reopen the search for a long-term home for the franchise.

The legislation was amended to require private financing for at least half the stadium construction costs, a provision not contained in the September agreement between baseball and Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

``We will review the amendments and the legislation as passed and have a response tomorrow,'' said Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer.

``I am not trying to kill the deal,'' said council chair Linda W. Cropp, who introduced the private financing measure. ``I'm putting some teeth in it because I'm really disappointed with what I got from Major League Baseball.''

The amendment passed on a 10-3 vote after Cropp threatened to withhold support from the overall package if the provision wasn't approved. Cropp said she didn't think the change violated the city's agreement with baseball, but would pressure Williams to find a private financier.

Williams refused to answer questions after the vote.

``We'll have to see how baseball reacts,'' said Councilman Jack Evans, a baseball proponent. But he said he expects the council will have to change the legislation to keep the deal alive.

``We'll have until the end of the year to change this,'' Evans said.

City Administrator Robert Bobb said city negotiators were talking with baseball officials, but he didn't expect the owners to accept the change.

If the law stands, baseball's likely response would be to have the team play the 2005 season at Washington's RFK Stadium, where it would be known as the Nationals, while baseball's search committee resumes negotiations with cities that desire the team.

One option could be Las Vegas, which was among the cities competing for the Expos and is still lobbying for a team. Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman campaigned at last week's winter meetings, arriving accompanied by showgirls wearing feathered headdresses.

Baseball opponents in Washington said the change makes the deal more equitable.

``All we're asking for is private financing for half the stadium,'' said Councilman Adrian Fenty, who voted against the final legislation. ``That shouldn't be a problem.''

The Montreal Expos became the first major league team outside the United States when they started play in 1969, but attendance at Olympic Stadium slumped over the past decade and the franchise was bought by the other 29 teams before the 2002 season. In 2003 and 2004, some of the team's home games were moved to Puerto Rico to raise revenue.

From the start, baseball owners insisted a publicly financed stadium for the team be a component of any move.

When the council gave its initial approval to the law on Nov. 30, it called for the city to issue $531 million in bonds to finance the plan. Baseball owners approved the Expos' move Dec. 2. on the condition that financing be put in place consistent with the deal, and that arrangements to prepare RFK Stadium for use in 2005 satisfied baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

Washington's new team would start play April 4 at Philadelphia and play its home opener April 14 against Arizona at RFK Stadium.

Monterrey, Mexico; Norfolk, Va.; Northern Virginia; Portland, Ore.; and San Juan, Puerto Rico, also tried to land the Expos

posted on Dec, 15 2004 @ 07:20 PM
Expos' move to Washington on verge of collapse

By RONALD BLUM, AP Sports Writer
December 15, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) -- Washington's new baseball team shut down business and promotional operations indefinitely Wednesday as its move to the nation's capital teetered on the brink of collapse.

The decision by major league baseball followed the District of Columbia Council's decision Tuesday night to require private financing for at least half the cost of building a new stadium. The September agreement to move the Montreal Expos to Washington called for a ballpark fully financed by government money.

``Yes, I think baseball is now in jeopardy,'' Mayor Anthony A. Williams said.

A previously scheduled news conference to unveil new uniforms was called off and fans who bought tickets to watch the renamed Nationals next season at RFK Stadium can get refunds, said Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer.

Baseball will not resume talks with other cities until after Dec. 31, the deadline in the agreement for Washington to put a ballpark financing law in place.

``In the meantime, the club's baseball operations will proceed, but its business and promotional activities will cease until further notice,'' DuPuy said.

He did not address where the team would play its 2005 home schedule if the deal with Washington falls through. It remains unclear whether baseball would move the franchise to RFK Stadium on a temporary basis, remain at Montreal's Olympic Stadium or go to another city.

Williams had signed the deal nearly three months ago, and publicly celebrated the return of major league baseball to Washington, which hasn't had a team since 1971.

``We had a deal. I believe the deal was broken, and the dream of 33 years is now once again close to dying. I would say close,'' Williams said at a news conference Wednesday.

Council Chair Linda W. Cropp proposed the amendment, which was approved 10-3 after she threatened to withhold support from the overall package, which then passed In a 7-6 vote.

``I am not trying to kill the deal,'' Cropp said. ``I'm putting some teeth in it because I'm really disappointed with what I got from major league baseball.''

The September agreement estimated the cost of building the ballpark and refurbishing RFK Stadium at $435 million, but critics claimed it would cost far more. The proposal, as initially approved by the council on Nov. 30, called for Washington to issue up to $531 million in bonds to cover the cost.

``I am very confident that we are going to be able to work through this and that we will have baseball here,'' said Councilman Jack Evans, who supported Williams on the original financing plan.

Some of the communities that had lost out in the bidding for the team prepared to resume their efforts to lure the franchise.

``I don't think we've ever stopped,'' Norfolk group head Will Somerindyke Jr. said. ``We always wanted to keep this area an option. If the opportunity arises for the Expos again, we are going to be standing there along with everyone else.

``Whether we could get something done by next year, I think that's a stretch,'' he added. ``It would be very, very tough.''

Somerindyke's organization has returned the deposits it collected on nearly 10,000 season tickets and almost 100 luxury boxes during its drive to get the Expos. He didn't think it would be difficult to get those deposits back.

Officials in Portland, Ore., were uncertain how to interpret the developments.

``We need to wait to see how Major League Baseball assesses this so we can respond,'' said Drew Mahalic of the Oregon Sports Authority.

Northern Virginia's group had hoped to build a ballpark near Dulles International Airport.

``We hope that the District of Columbia will be able to fulfill the terms of its agreement and succeed in bringing Major League Baseball back to this region,'' Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority spokesman Brian Hannigan said.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman went to baseball's winter meetings last weekend trying to attract attention to his efforts to lure a team. But he could not offer a firm stadium plan.

``It's just a glint in my eye, at this point,'' he said.

Washington has lost teams twice before: The original Senators became the Minnesota Twins after the 1960 season and the expansion Senators transformed into the Texas Rangers following the 1971 season.

``Here we are back where we were five years ago -- the nation's capital, the center of the world, a city of possibility, aspiration and ambition and opportunity, and a city that cannot do what it says it's going to do,'' Williams said. ``I'm saddened that we can go so far in five years and step back so far in five minutes.''

The Expos became the first major league team outside the United States when they started play in 1969, but attendance at Olympic Stadium slumped over the past decade and the franchise was bought by the other 29 teams before the 2002 season. In 2003 and 2004, some of the team's home games were moved to Puerto Rico to raise revenue.

posted on Dec, 16 2004 @ 10:43 PM
Williams working on private financing

WASHINGTON -- As the future of a Washington baseball team hangs in the balance, the mayor said Thursday it's still possible to meet the Dec. 31 deadline for a deal.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams said his administration is working to pull together private financing to win the vote of District of Columbia Council chairwoman Linda W. Cropp. An amendment she introduced requiring at least half the stadium funding come from private sources was declared "wholly unacceptable" by Major League Baseball officials.

"You can expect they're going to say the things they're saying," Williams said. "This is a business deal."

Cropp said all she wants is a way for the city to save money on the deal to build a $440 million ballpark near the Anacostia River waterfront.

But before she offers any compromises, Cropp wants baseball to extend its deadline -- insisting it has nothing to lose.

"They have everything that they had requested basically," including a free baseball stadium, Cropp said. "By setting back the Dec. 31 deadline as truly an end point does absolutely no harm to Major League Baseball.

"That would be a move of good faith, I think, on their part to the district citizens," she said.

Cropp said new private financing proposals are coming in. One under consideration involves use of profits from parking near the stadium and another would transfer ownership of the stadium to a private group in a lease-back arrangement.

The city's chief financial officer is planning to issue a formal request for proposals early next week, said John Ross, senior adviser to CFO Natwar M. Gandhi. Only one proposal has been formally presented to the office so far, and it will take some time before new proposals can be reviewed because the process requires formal documentation, Ross said. Legislation allows the CFO 120 days to review the funding schemes.

"There is no way for the CFO's office to do their due diligence on these proposals, say, by the end of the year," Ross said.

Opponents of the stadium plan said it's up to baseball to keep things on track and called the league's response "unreasonable."

"We've gone way beyond the extra mile," said councilman Jim Graham, who voted against the deal. "I wasn't elected to come here and rubber stamp any proposal."

As for a possible compromise, Graham said the council is in the dark and would have to see what the mayor and baseball are willing to discuss.

Baseball supporters asked the public Thursday to call Cropp's office to help persuade her to change her vote. Councilmen Harold Brazil, Jack Evans and Vincent Orange held a news conference to highlight the strong points of the deal, including a community benefits package that could eventually bring $125 million for school construction and $45 million for libraries if the mayor's plan pans out.

They said businesses still support the fee that will be used to help pay for construction bonds, and they said Cropp had committed to vote for the package if businesses approved.

"Madame Chairman, come on back home," said Brazil, a lame duck who lost a September primary challenge.

Evans said after a day in limbo, it's clear the legislation would have to be changed at the council's final meeting of the year next Tuesday or baseball won't play in Washington.

Villanova University professor Rick Eckstein, who has studied baseball funding deals, said threats of ending the deal are all part of the negotiations.

"Someone's going to have to blink and swallow their pride a little bit," Eckstein said. "Since baseball has such an overwhelmingly lopsided deal in their favor, I think they're going to have to give a little bit."


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