Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes is trying to get Edward Bennett Williams to agree to at least a five-year contract between the Baltimore Orioles and the city's Memorial Stadium as a lever to win approval from the state legislature for a stadium improvement project.
Without such a pact, an aid to the governor said yesterday, it would be "much harder" to get the $22 million project cleared.
Williams, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, has previously said the renovation plans do "absolutely nothing" for the baseball club be purchased last fall. He has estimated that no more than 2 percent of the money would benefit the Orioles.
Most of the money would be earmarked for improvements sought by the NFL Baltimore Colts whose owner, Robert Irsay, has threatened to move elsewhere if the stadium is not upgraded.
The plan calls for the bulk of the $22 million to be spent adding 13,900 seats in the end zone -- baseball's outfield -- to bring the capacity up to almost 66,000 seats; the construction of 50 loge boxes and improvements to various rooms, offices and restaurants.
Irsay has given Hughes a verbal commitment for a 15-year lease if the renovations are made. But, Hughes' aide said, "The governor said if he could get at least a five-year lease from the Orioles, it should suffice (for winning legislative approval). But so far he can't get Mr. Williams to agree to even a five-year lease."
There have been some fears in Baltimore that Williams, a prominent Washington attorney and president of the NFL Washington Redskins, wants to move the Orioles here.
He has promised to keep the Orioles in Baltimore as long as they are supported and repeated that pledge last weekend at a meeting with Hughes, state legislators and Baltimore city officials.
"He did not rule out the possibility of building a stadium somewhere in Maryland sometime in the future," the governor's aide said.
In the event such a possibility arises, Del. John R. Hargreaves (D-Caroline), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, introduced a bill earlier this week to permit local governments to issue tax-free revenue bonds to finance a new baseball stadium and to guarantee payment of up to $5 million on the bonds.