Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes' two-year effort to get Baltimore Colts owner Robert Irsay to sign a long-term lease at Memorial Stadium officially ended today when Irsay turned down Hughes' final offer.
Irsay's rejection of the two offers Hughes made to him Wednesday hardly came as a shock to anyone here. Legislative leaders were fed up with Irsay long ago and had already told Hughes earlier this week that even if Irsay accepted this offer, it was probably too late to get necessary legislation passed this session.
Hughes said today he will ask the legislature for a one-year extension on the stadium bond issue, which is scheduled to terminate June 30. He admitted that with only 10 days left in the session, even that may be difficult, echoing thoughts expressed earlier by legislative leaders.
"This is not the kind of issue you deal with during the last two weeks of a session," said House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin. "If it was going to be taken care of, it should have been done in January. The governor, the mayor, the legislature have done everything they can on this for two years."
-Irsay told the Associated Press today that he has no plans to move the Colts. Their lease does not expire until 1987.
-"In my recent discussion with the governor and the mayor (Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer), I have never even suggested that if we were unable to reach an accord I intended to move the Colts," Irsay told AP.
Two years ago, the legislature passed a bill authorizing a $22 million bond issue that would be used to remodel and refurbish Memorial Stadium. The passing of the bond issue came while Irsay was publicly flirting with the city of Jacksonville.
But the bill that was passed in 1980 included a provision that the Colts would pay the remainder of the state's share ($10 million) of the bill if they left the stadium before 1996. Irsay balked.
Hughes has met three times this year with Irsay and Schaefer. Hughes has made it clear that ensuring that the Colts stay in Baltimore is a priority.
But while Hughes has, as he said today, "tried to show good faith," Irsay has given nothing in return. His complaint earlier this year was that because the interest rate on bonds had risen from 6 percent to 11.3 percent in the last two years, his financial backers would not accept such a high-risk deal.
One of Hughes' final offers reduced Irsay's liability on the bonds to the 6 percent interest rate. But this morning Hughes received a call from Irsay's attorney, informing him there was no deal.
Irsay and his attorneys have not returned reporters' phone calls for several weeks. A Colts representative called the Associated Press in Baltimore to say that Irsay had again said no to Hughes. Irsay, who lives in Skokie, Ill., and his attorney were again unavailable for comment.
Hughes maintained today that extending the bond issue made sense in spite of Irsay's lack of cooperation. "It would not surprise me if legislators were reluctant; that's why I'm planning to meet with them," he said.