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For Expos, Next Year Starts Now

Advance Work Can't Wait Until Resolution Of D.C. Stadium Deal

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 15, 2004; Page A01

Just a few floors above the USO gala and the meeting of the National Italian American Foundation, Tony Tavares' cell phone rings constantly, still occasionally alerting him to calls by chiming an electronic version of "O Canada!"

A generic suite at the Washington Hilton is, for now, the epicenter of the District's return to Major League Baseball. Tavares, president of the Montreal Expos, arrived in town with his right-hand man, Kevin Uhlich, just Tuesday night, and spent Wednesday and yesterday beginning to figure out the logistics of bringing baseball back to the nation's capital.

In addition to ticket sales, Tony Tavares, right, and Kevin Uhlich have a number of issues on the table, including food service, broadcasters and corporate sales representatives. (Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)

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"It's not much of an operation," Tavares said. "It's a couple of people running around like chickens with their heads cut off."

The $440 million stadium deal to bring the Expos to Washington still faces what could be a contentious approval process by the D.C. Council, but with spring training less than four months away, Tavares said there is too much to do for the team to wait. So he has established a two-man beachhead, consisting of the Expos' only employees in D.C., and started on a seemingly endless checklist of tasks, even though no one knows what the team will be called or who will own it.

"There's a whole bunch of A-list priorities," Tavares said. "Which one is more important is in the eye of the beholder somewhat."

None is more important at the moment, though, than selecting a company that will help the team sell tickets. Uhlich, who ran the business operation under Tavares when both were with the Anaheim Angels, said that process usually takes weeks or months. "We're going to do it in days," he said. By the middle of next week, Uhlich said, he would like to select a distributor -- Uhlich and Tavares met with both Ticketmaster and Tickets.com -- and begin gathering names of potential ticket buyers within 10 days.

Uhlich, who officially is serving as an outside consultant for the Expos, and Tavares visited RFK Stadium, where the team is scheduled to spend its first three years, and they'll return today. They met with a local consulting firm to determine public relations strategies. They are in the process of securing trailers -- "Let's call them 'modular offices,' " Uhlich said -- so the team's operation can be set up at RFK, but they also will rent space downtown. Food service and concessionaires, broadcasters and corporate sales representatives. All were on the agenda in a wild first 48 hours.

"I apologize for not being more organized," Tavares said, "but this is a very disorganized situation right now."

The situation is fraught with potential hurdles. When MLB granted the Expos to the District last month, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) enthusiastically said baseball's return to the nation's capital was "rounding third and heading for home." Those final 90 feet could prove difficult.

The council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the stadium package Oct. 28 and possibly take a first vote Nov. 9. Supporters want to get the plan approved before three anti-stadium candidates who are expected to win election to the council on Nov. 2 take office. The three, including former mayor Marion Barry, are among critics who argue that the new taxes that will fund the waterfront ballpark in Southeast would be better spent on other needs, such as schools or a hospital.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who is among the council members who have expressed concerns about the deal, said he was surprised the Expos had staff already in Washington. "I don't think we have a done deal," he said. "I appreciate their eagerness, but don't think we're there. We have many a question."

A dozen protesters demonstrated yesterday under the arch in Chinatown, passing out fliers and talking to passers-by about their opposition to using public money to fund the stadium. Members of the group, called No D.C. Taxes for Baseball, wore catcher's masks, held signs and spoke through a loudspeaker.

Stadium supporters fired back yesterday by recruiting baseball fans to contact the council and express support for the deal. The Washington Baseball Club, a local group that hopes to purchase the Expos, spearheaded that effort. With approval from city officials, the club sent an e-mail to more than 15,000 people who have contacted them seeking information about the team.

The e-mail invites recipients to copy one of two form letters -- one for D.C. residents and one for baseball fans who live outside the city -- and forward it to council members. As of late yesterday, the club's executive director, Winston Lord, said more than 3,000 people had done so. Some council members said their electronic mailboxes were flooded with the missives.

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