A senior Major League Baseball official said Wednesday that Commissioner Bud Selig continues to have serious concerns about the impact relocating a team to the Washington area would have on the Baltimore Orioles.
The comment, by baseball president and Chief Operating Officer Robert A. DuPuy, underscored how the Baltimore issue remains a significant hurdle for the District despite a recent proposal by Mayor Anthony A. Williams to build a stadium for a baseball team. Orioles owner Peter Angelos has long opposed a team in the Washington area, arguing it would take away fans and devalue his franchise.
Meanwhile, Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority Executive Director Gabe Paul Jr. sent a letter to all MLB clubs Wednesday that claimed his group has completed funding plans for a stadium near Dulles International Airport, one major league team executive told the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity. The plan is tied to a Marriott hotel chain development project, the official said.
"We have sent Major League Baseball a revised financial plan but I cannot comment on it," Paul said late last night.
District officials said this week that they would not enact a plan to finance the new stadium until baseball promised to move the Montreal Expos to Washington. However, DuPuy said the District's decision is not a deal-breaker because he believes localities will follow through on their financial commitments once they are chosen.
DuPuy said any of the six locations under consideration, including Northern Virginia, could be selected. But the Expos, presently owned by baseball's other teams, would not be sold or physically relocated before the financing is legally enacted.
"From day one, [Selig] has stated . . . that he has grave concerns about the impact that locating a franchise in a particular community might have on other franchises in other communities," DuPuy said. "And obviously putting a team in Northern Virginia or Washington would have an impact on the Baltimore franchise and the commissioner has expressed his concerns about that."
DuPuy's comments followed daylong meetings of team owners at the league's Park Avenue headquarters. The nine-member relocation committee, charged with recommending to Selig where to move the Expos, met for 21/2 hours. DuPuy said the committee will present Selig with its analysis within the next month and that baseball is on track to select a home for the Expos by mid-summer, perhaps by the all-star break. He said no location has been ruled in or out, and that the panel is not even leaning toward any location.
"We remain optimistic that we will narrow or identify a location for the Montreal Expos as early in the season as we can and will then work on the details of an ownership group and getting the process done," DuPuy said. "We are entirely confident that the Expos will play some place other than Montreal for the 2005 season."
DuPuy described yesterday's meeting of the relocation committee as a "full-blown working session" attended by all nine members, including owners Jerry Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox, Tom Hicks of the Texas Rangers and Wendy Selig-Prieb of the Milwaukee Brewers.
"There was a careful review of all the proposals: whether there was anything missing, whether anything else was needed in terms of the analysis, what the next step is going to be," DuPuy said. "This was a full-blown working session."
The District centers the nation's fifth-largest metropolitan area, and its residents claim among the highest levels of disposable income in the United States, according to city officials. Most of the District's competitors for the Expos represent much smaller markets with unproven ability to support a major league team, they said.
In addition to the District and Northern Virginia, the other bidders are Las Vegas; Hampton Roads, Va., near Norfolk; Portland, Ore.; and Monterrey, Mexico.
Details of the District's financing package have been a closely held secret. City officials say specifics of the tax package would depend on where a stadium was built.
Cost estimates start at $278 million to build a ballpark on the grounds of RFK Stadium, where the city controls land and there is ample parking. Sites on New York Avenue NE and near the Anacostia waterfront would be more expensive -- in the range of $355 million -- in part because the city would have to purchase most of the land from private owners.
The most expensive site, at $383 million, includes a proposal to build a stadium on a platform straddling Interstate 395 near L'Enfant Plaza. The land is owned by the federal government, and the District already controls the air rights over the highway. But the design presents obvious challenges, and city officials have contacted architects to discuss its feasibility.
D.C. officials say they plan to pay for the stadium with revenue bonds, financed with three potential sources of revenue: sales taxes on stadium services, including tickets, parking and concessions; lease payments from the new team at sites other than RFK; and a new tax on the city's largest businesses.
All told, the city would need as much as $24 million a year in new revenue, according to city officials, but they have refused to say what portion of the sum would come from new taxes on business.