The co-founder of America Online, the head of Fannie Mae and the chief executive officers of two multibillion-dollar investment firms have joined forces in an attempt to bring a major league baseball team to the District.
"My three partners and I clearly have the capability of providing the equity needed to bring -- and develop -- a world-class major league baseball team to Washington," said the leader of the group, Fred V. Malek, a Nixon White House advisor and former Texas Rangers part-owner who heads Thayer Capital Partners, a Washington-based investment firm.
In an interview yesterday, Malek said his core baseball investment group also consists of James V. Kimsey, founding CEO and chairman emeritus of America Online Inc.; Franklin D. Raines, chairman and CEO of Fannie Mae; and Joseph E. Robert Jr., chairman and CEO of J.E. Robert Companies, an Alexandria-based commercial real estate, mortgage investment and asset management firm.
The group, known as Washington Baseball Club, is the second to announce its intention to bring a big league team to the District. A third potential ownership group has been working for five years to acquire a major league team for Northern Virginia.
While no team is for sale, the Montreal Expos may be sold if a deal to build a new stadium isn't made soon. The Expos have been drawing an average of 9,000 fans a game to their antiquated 46,500-seat stadium this season.
Malek, 62, also has been president of Marriott Hotels and Northwest Airlines and chairman of President George Bush's 1992 reelection campaign. His District-based firm manages several billion dollars for various investors and owns the city's largest hotel, the 1,463-room Marriott Wardman Park in Cleveland Park. Malek graduated from the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., and Harvard Business School.
Kimsey attended Gonzaga High in the District and Georgetown University before receiving an appointment to West Point, where he was a schoolmate of Malek's. "West Point graduate General Abner Doubleday invented baseball," Kimsey said. "It is only fitting that two West Point graduates bring baseball to Washington."
A former Clinton budget director, Raines is a Rhodes Scholar and Harvard Law School graduate and the first African American to head a Fortune 500 company. Fannie Mae is a government-sponsored company that finances homes for low- and middle-income Americans.
Since it was founded in 1981, Robert's company has purchased and/or managed more than 23,000 assets with a combined value of more than $30 billion, according to company data.
Two longtime Washington lawyers and civic activists -- Paul M. Wolff of Williams & Connolly and Stephen W. Porter of Arnold & Porter -- also are members of the group, Malek said.
Wolff and Porter approached Malek in April when they were trying to interest Washington investors in forming a new baseball group. At the time, Wolff was chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission's budget and finance committee and Porter was chairman of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce's baseball exploratory committee and the Federal City Council's sports committee.
To avoid a possible conflict of interest, Wolff said he has resigned from the D.C. sports commission. Porter said he has resigned from the baseball exploratory committee and asked Federal City Council officials whether he should resign from that panel.
Malek, meanwhile, has written Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and Expos general partner Claude Brochu, informing them of his group's interest in bringing a team to the District. Washington hasn't had a major league baseball team since 1971, when the Senators moved to Texas to become the Rangers.
Malek said if his group buys the Expos the team would play next season at RFK Stadium and in subsequent years at a new ballpark, either on the RFK site or downtown, near Mount Vernon Square.
In separate meetings last Tuesday morning, Malek said he told Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) that his team would hire and train District residents for stadium and front-office jobs and establish a foundation to benefit inner-city youth.
"This foundation would be charged with giving back to the community a fairly significant per centage of the profits from the team," Malek said, adding that retired Gen. Colin Powell "is open to advising us and becoming a member of the foundation board."
The foundation -- and team -- are hardly a certainty, however.
The Expos' sale would have to be approved by Selig. And a Washington team likely would be opposed by Baltimore Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos, who has said a club in the District or Northern Virginia would hurt his franchise financially.
The Malek group also has competition: The Expos are being eyed by another D.C. group (headed by real estate developer Douglas Jemal), a Northern Virginia group (led by telecommunications executive William L. Collins) and investors who want to move the team to Charlotte.
"We believe there are some very real and meaningful hurdles ahead," Malek said. "That doesn't deter our determination. But we realize the odds are against success."
Staff writers Shannon Henry and Maryann Haggerty contributed to this report.