MLB in Washington 'close to dying'

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Dec. 15, 2004. 08:52 PM

MLB in Washington 'close to dying'


NEW YORK - Washington's new baseball team shut down business and promotional operations indefinitely Wednesday as an unforeseen council vote left the deal to bring the Montreal Expos to the U.S. capital on the brink of collapse.

Major league baseball's September agreement to move the team to Washington called for a ballpark fully financed by government money, but the District of Columbia Council voted Tuesday to require private financing for at least half the cost.

A previously scheduled news conference to unveil new uniforms was called off and fans who bought tickets to watch the renamed Washington Nationals next season at RFK Stadium can get refunds, said Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer.

"Yes, I think baseball is now in jeopardy," Mayor Anthony A. Williams said.

Baseball will not resume talks with other cities until after Dec. 31, the deadline in the agreement for Washington to put a ballpark financing law in place.

"In the meantime, the club's baseball operations will proceed, but its business and promotional activities will cease until further notice," DuPuy said.

He did not address where the team would play its 2005 home schedule if the deal with Washington falls through. It remains unclear whether baseball would move the franchise to RFK Stadium on a temporary basis, remain at Montreal's Olympic Stadium or go to another city.

Williams signed the deal nearly three months ago, and publicly celebrated the return of major league baseball to Washington, which hasn't had a team since 1971.

"We had a deal. I believe the deal was broken, and the dream of 33 years is now once again close to dying," Williams said at a news conference Wednesday.

"I'm saddened that we can go so far in five years and step back so far in five minutes," he said.

Council Chair Linda W. Cropp proposed the amendment to require private financing, which was approved 10-3 after she threatened to withhold support from the overall package, which then passed on a 7-6 vote.

"I am not trying to kill the deal," Cropp said. "I'm putting some teeth in it because I'm really disappointed with what I got from major league baseball.''

The September agreement estimated the cost of building the ballpark and refurbishing RFK Stadium at $435 million (all funds US), but critics claimed it would cost far more. The proposal, as initially approved by the council Nov. 30, called for Washington to borrow up to $531 million to cover the cost.

Despite Tuesday's vote, Councilman Jack Evans, who supported Williams on the original financing plan, said that he was "very confident that we are going to be able to work through this and that we will have baseball here.''

Some cities that had lost out in the bidding for the team prepared to resume their efforts to lure the franchise.

"I don't think we've ever stopped," Norfolk, Va., group head Will Somerindyke Jr. said. "Whether we could get something done by next year, I think that's a stretch," he added. "It would be very, very tough.''

Groups from Portland, Ore., northern Virginia and Las Vegas also are among those seeking to attract a major league franchise.

Washington has lost teams twice before. The original Senators became the Minnesota Twins after the 1960 season and the expansion Senators transformed into the Texas Rangers following the 1971 season.

The Expos became the first major league team outside the United States when they started play in 1969, but attendance at Olympic Stadium slumped over the past decade and the franchise was bought by the other 29 teams before the 2002 season. In 2003 and 2004, some of the team's home games were played in Puerto Rico to raise revenue.

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MLB is just full of greedy pigs. DC offered them a fair deal and the MLB is just asking for DC to foot the whole bill for everything while they just sit back and collect the money. wth...

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Dec. 22, 2004. 07:08 AM

Washington club back on track as stadium deal okayed

D.C. council vote seals Expos' move Nats `rounding third, heading for home'



WASHINGTON?The Washington Nationals secured a home yesterday when a divided District of Columbia Council narrowly approved legislation that allows baseball to return to the U.S. capital after 33 years.

By a vote of 7-6, the council adopted a stadium package that contains several amendments to the original deal Mayor Anthony Williams struck with Major League Baseball in September. After three seasons at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, beginning in April, the former Montreal Expos are scheduled to move to a state-of-the-art ballpark in 2008.

The council's action came a day after a marathon negotiating session between Williams, council chair Linda Cropp and baseball officials, who found a middle ground between cost savings measures the council added last week and stadium funding guarantees sought by baseball officials.

The move punctuated weeks of debate among residents of Washington and its suburbs about the use of public money for a ballpark and officially returned baseball to Washington for the first time since the Senators left for Texas in 1971.

"Finally and at last, all of us have risen above the fray, and the Washington Nationals are rounding third and heading for home,'' Williams said at a news conference. "Isn't that great?''

Under the deal approved yesterday, a gross receipts tax on large businesses and a utilities tax on businesses and federal offices will fund part of the construction. The city will continue to search for private money to cover at least 50 per cent of the cost of the ballpark.

Also, the city and MLB will share the cost of insurance against cost overruns. And if the stadium does not open by March 2008, the city will be liable for $5.3 million (U.S.), one year's rent for RFK, compared with $19 million or more in the original deal.

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