The consortium of Phoenix, Tempe and Arizona State University officials that has been dealing with St. Louis Cardinals owner William Bidwill is convinced he will move his franchise to Baltimore, one of the principals of the group said yesterday.

"I don't think anybody in our group will swear and affirm that the next phone call we get from the Cardinals will be to tell us the vans are on the way," said the official, who asked not to be identified.

The official said he reached this conclusion after Bidwill, who wanted to meet with the Phoenix group last week, called and asked the delegation to come to Chicago, instead. "We called around," the source said, "and we found out the real reason he wanted to meet in Chicago was that they were meeting two or three different groups there. That's the indication to me it's Baltimore."

The official said his group is still involved in trying to land the Cardinals and has supplied additional information to Bidwill's financial advisers this week, but considers it a practice run for the time when the NFL decides to expand. Phoenix is considered the leading expansion candidate.

"We're looking at this with the Cardinals to coalesce all the groups {that would seek an expansion team} here in the Phoenix area and to polish up our act," the official said.

Phoenix and Baltimore are considered the two major contenders if Bidwill decides to move the Cardinals. He has to notify the league of his intentions by Jan. 15, but a St. Louis source said this week he could decide within a week.

Meanwhile in Baltimore, Herb Belgrad, Maryland Stadium Authority chairman, said it is clear Bidwill prefers a domed stadium, although he had not made it a demand or a condition for relocating there.

"His financial consultants mentioned it this week, saying there was renewed interest after the bad weather {in St. Louis for the Redskins game} last week and he mentioned it to the governor," Belgrad said. "So he'd be very happy to have a dome."

Belgrad has told Bidwill in the past that the $235 million appropriation by the General Assembly for two stadiums in Camden Yards does not include enough money to build a domed football stadium. Belgrad also said he would not be against a domed stadium with additional financing from a private developer. Yesterday, he said public financing also was possible if the facility projected a large enough profit to pay off its debt.

The dome would be able to be used as a 20,000-seat arena and as a convention site with additional meeting rooms. It would cost an additional $37 million, according to a consultant's report requested by the stadium authority last winter.

"We thought about a dome long before a Bill Bidwill came on the scene," Belgrad said. "This week we asked our financial consultants to project the revenues we could expect from a dome, the additional costs and determine whether there's a deficit or a profit. We have to act responsibly for the taxpayers."

Belgrad said Baltimore would not pursue NBA or NHL franchises, but seek other sports events and concert performers who could sell out three nights at both Baltimore and Capital Centre.

If the dome is privately financed, Bidwill won't be the private developer involved, according to the Arizona official. "It's clear they have no intention of spending anything," he said. "They're saying, 'If you guys aren't prepared to pour out your souls to us, we'll take it as a tacit fact you don't really want the franchise.' "

The Baltimore Evening Sun yesterday quoted a St. Louis source as saying Bidwill's preference is to play in a domed stadium in Baltimore.

Tuesday, Belgrad said he was confident Baltimore was the leading contender and that the only thing that would keep the Cardinals from moving there would be something beyond the city's control, like the warmer climate and lifestyle in Arizona.