A 12-hour meeting this week between Major League Baseball and District negotiators, which centered on the logistics of moving the Montreal Expos into Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, shows that baseball's decision on the team's future has taken on new urgency, officials on both sides said yesterday.
The officials said time is running short to renovate RFK as an interim site for games if the District is chosen as the Expos' new home, and they noted that the chances of getting a stadium financing package passed by the D.C. Council will diminish when a new council takes office in January. Three candidates who campaigned against public financing of a new stadium defeated council incumbents in Tuesday's Democratic primary and are likely to win the general election in November.
Two baseball sources said yesterday that Commissioner Bud Selig has called a meeting of baseball's executive committee next week, at which the Expos could be the topic of discussion. The eight-member executive committee, which includes Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, makes all the important decisions on baseball policy.
But even in the top echelons of Major League Baseball, there still appeared to be uncertainty about when the relocation decision would be made.
One senior baseball official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said yesterday that the decision would be made in the next five days, adding that this week's District primary election had caused baseball to accelerate its timetable. Baseball President Robert DuPuy said, however, that "it is very unlikely that any final decision is imminent."
Baseball has already broken several self-imposed deadlines for finding a new home for the ailing Expos, including July's All-Star Game, then early August and, most recently, Labor Day.
District officials said they need to know one way or the other very soon.
"It's critical that any legislation necessary for stadium financing be done now in order to expedite the renovations at RFK Stadium to enable baseball to play there next April," said D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who is chairman of the council's Committee on Finance and Revenue. "That's a lot of what it comes down to."
Wednesday's 12-hour negotiating session at a Georgetown law office, the longest yet between baseball and District officials, explored the logistics of moving the Expos to Washington in great detail, including the proposed sites for a new stadium and the interim site at RFK, according to several participants. It followed a 21/2-hour meeting the previous day between baseball officials and representatives of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, which is trying to bring the Expos to Loudoun County.
Getting RFK ready for baseball would take a minimum of three months and cost $13 million to $15 million in upgrades, including rehabilitating dugouts and locker rooms, relocating seats, creating bullpens, improving lighting and expanding bathrooms, according to two sources who attended the meeting in Georgetown.
A city official said the costs of renovating RFK would be included in the overall bond issue for a new stadium in the District. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the District will not finance baseball-specific improvements to RFK until it receives a commitment from Major League Baseball that the Expos are moving to the city permanently.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) has said he will come up with a stadium financing package of more than $300 million within days of a decision to move the Expos to Washington. He is proposing generally to repay the debt on stadium construction bonds through a combination of dedicated taxes, including sales taxes on stadium-related items such as parking, souvenirs and tickets, and a new tax on business.
On Tuesday, council members Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8), Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) and Harold Brazil (D-At Large), who chairs the Committee on Economic Development, were soundly defeated. The winners, former mayor Marion Barry, Vincent C. Gray and Kwame R. Brown, all say they oppose raising taxes to build a stadium.
Brown said yesterday that "any decision on baseball should not be hurried or rammed through the council out of fear of the potential new members. The residents should always have a voice."
Asked about the possibility that the new council in January could reconsider a stadium financing package approved this year, Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) noted that nine votes on the 13-member council would be needed to override a mayoral veto.
Numerous issues still need to be resolved before a team could move to the city. The final decision rests with Selig, who has said he is reluctant to put a team in the District because of its potential impact on the Orioles, and Angelos remains steadfastly opposed to a team's moving to the District.
Major League Baseball has narrowed the Expos search mostly to Washington and Northern Virginia, although officials said publicly that no cities have been ruled in or out. The original candidates included Las Vegas, Norfolk, Portland, Ore., and Monterrey, Mexico.
Attending Wednesday's meeting from baseball were Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who heads a relocation subcommittee that is concentrating on the Washington area; John McHale, executive vice president of Major League Baseball; and baseball's chief counsel, Tom Ostertag. Rick Weiss of the Foley & Lardner law offices, who is performing legal work for the relocation committee, also was present.
Leading the negotiations for the District were Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission; Bill Hall, who heads the commission's baseball committee; Chris Dunlavey, the city's sports facility consultant; Eric Price, deputy mayor for planning and economic development; and Steve Green, a special assistant in Price's office.
Staff writer Thomas Boswell contributed to this report.