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Friday, April 9, 2004
Washington to fund park if MLB moves Expos

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Washington is calling baseball's bluff over the relocation of the Montreal Expos.

City officials have prepared a new plan they say offers Major League Baseball exactly what it has requested: 100 percent public financing for a new ballpark if the Expos are moved to the nation's capital.

"It is by far the best proposal that the city could have come up with," Fred Malek, head of a potential ownership group who has worked closely with the city, said Friday. "It's aggressive. It meets the needs and requests of Major League Baseball. It's got the support of the mayor as well as key members of the city council."

Baseball has been trying to resolve the future of the Expos since the struggling franchise was purchased by the other 29 teams before the 2002 season. League officials failed to meet deadlines in 2002 and 2003 to find a new home for the team and have set this year's All-Star break as their latest target.

Las Vegas; Monterrey, Mexico; Norfolk, Va.; Portland, Ore.; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Northern Virginia have also expressed interest in the Expos, but league officials have insisted that any relocation plan include full public funding for a stadium without relying on contributions from an ownership group.

The promoter who brought 22 games to Puerto Rico last year and again this season made a proposal to the commissioner's office for a trial relocation to the Caribbean island.

Anthony Munoz said Friday before the Expos' first game of the year at Hiram Bithorn Stadium the San Juan municipal government has committed to renovate the stadium or build a new ballpark to meet major league standards if his offer is accepted.

Washington's new proposal, first reported by The Washington Times, envisions a $340 million stadium built on a parking lot near RFK Stadium, where the Senators played before relocating to Texas after the 1971 season. RFK would also serve as the relocated Expos' temporary home for two or three seasons while the new stadium is built. The money would be raised through a new tax on large Washington businesses and taxes on tickets, concessions, merchandise, parking and other stadium-related sales.

Malek said he and city officials still feel the best location for a stadium is downtown as part of an economic revitalization along New York Avenue, but the cost of the land would require a contribution from Malek's group.

D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission Chairman Mark Tuohey stressed that the downtown sites are still on the table.

"RFK is a secondary site," Tuohey said. "The primary sites are the downtown sites."

Local officials have often felt that baseball has avoided serious consideration of Washington or Northern Virginia out of deference to Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who claims the D.C. area is part of his market. This latest plan could be seen as a test of Angelos' influence.

"I take the league at their word," Malek said. "They said they want a fully financed stadium, that Baltimore is a consideration, not a roadblock. I believe this area is two separate markets, and it's big enough to support two teams well."

Major League Baseball spokesman Rich Levin was not available for comment.