Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell, one of several investors in a group trying to buy the Washington Nationals, called on key District officials yesterday, including Mayor Anthony A. Williams and D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D), as the bidding war for the team heats up.
The meeting between city leaders and Powell, who is part of a syndicate headed by local businessmen Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients, follows last week's disclosure that Atlanta businessman Stan Kasten and Bethesda-based real estate magnate Ted Lerner, both of whom head separate bids to buy the Nationals, are talking about joining forces.
A District government source said Powell, along with Zients and Malek, met with Evans (D-Ward 2) for 30 minutes.
"There was nothing specific," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private. "It was just general to talk about baseball and Colin Powell was there to express interest. . . . They wanted to express that they are committed to the District."
Winston Lord, a spokesman for the Malek-Zients group, declined to comment.
Williams (D) has endorsed the Malek-Zients group, known as the Washington Baseball Club, saying the local businessmen helped lobby Major League Baseball to bring the franchise to Washington last year.
"I've worked with them for five or six years to bring baseball here," Williams said during a brief news conference yesterday. "They will be involved in substantive ways contributing to the city. They're a great group for the city."
The mayor and the D.C. Council have asked baseball officials several times to name an owner with deep local roots. The District is paying for a $535 million stadium project largely with public money and officials say an owner must be actively involved in ensuring that the investment pays off for city residents. Recent estimates show that the price of the ballpark is rising and city officials are scrambling to find enough money to cover the costs.
MLB has set a $450 million price on the Nationals, and the league is expected to select a new owner in the next few weeks among the eight groups trying to buy the franchise.
The league has said it will not name a new owner until the city and baseball sign a lease defining the terms under which the Nationals will rent and operate the new stadium, scheduled to open along the Anacostia River in March 2008. Sources said the lease is not expected to be finished this week.
Sources said Kasten has been approached by developer Franklin Haney Sr., who also is bidding on the team. Kasten and Haney declined to comment, but sources said the contact was only a very preliminary conversation and that Kasten is still waiting to meet with Commissioner Bud Selig about his bid for the team. Most of the other seven groups, including Haney, have met with Selig.
The Lerners, Malek-Zients and Indianapolis media executive Jeffrey Smulyan have the most support inside baseball to become the new owners of the Nationals, formerly known as the Montreal Expos.
If the Lerners reach an agreement with Kasten, who ran the Atlanta Braves for 17 years and is respected in baseball circles, that group could become a formidable bidder, although high-level baseball sources said Lerner-Kasten would not be the automatic favorite.