With the transition to the new seat of stadium authority, the future of the Baltimore Orioles is coming into focus for Gov. Wes Moore

When Gov. Wes Moore took his first out-of-town trip on behalf of the state, he didn’t entice a Fortune 500 company to move to Maryland or boost his resume with a foreign business trip — the kind of trips typical of a ambitious state executive.

Instead, he was talking baseball.

Moore’s tour Thursday at the Atlanta Braves’ stadium complex signaled a priority of his seven-week administration: continuing the partnership with the Orioles at a critical time as the state seeks a new lease that would commit the team to Baltimore for many years .

And his traveling partner, new Maryland Stadium Authority Chairman Craig Thompson, highlighted one of the key transitions in Moore’s takeover of state government after eight years under former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. The Stadium Authority manages the Orioles and Ravens State Stadiums downtown. Thompson (who had been Moore’s campaign chairman) replaced Thomas Kelso (former Hogan chairman) in the unpaid post.

Thompson joined Moore and Orioles president and CEO John Angelos for the visit at Atlanta’s Truist Park. The governor also planned to throw out the first pitch Friday at the Orioles’ spring training in Florida.

In interviews with The Baltimore Sun, Thompson and Kelso said they were optimistic the state would sign a new lease — one that has been negotiated for years by representatives of the stadium authority and the team — before the current contract extension. lease to expire on December 31st.

“As a trial attorney, I’m bound by the evidence in front of me,” said Thompson, who took over Monday. “What we’ve seen so far and the conversations we’ve had so far suggest that all relevant parties are optimistic about getting a deal done. I have neither heard nor seen anything antithetical to it.”

Kelso said he’s confident Thompson and “a whole team of people at the Maryland Stadium Authority who are focused on this” will keep the lease negotiations on track.

“All the work we’ve done to this point — as well as the focus and intent of the new governor and the new MSA president — makes me very optimistic that it will be completed by the end of this year,” said Kelso, a retired investment. banker. “The time it takes to achieve something that is significant should not reflect on the likelihood that it will be achieved.”

Looming over the lease negotiations is the memory of the NFL’s Colts leaving town for Indianapolis on a snowy March night in 1984 following a dispute with the city over improvements to Memorial Stadium.

Thirty-nine years later, Maryland seems constantly on guard against any other team’s exit.

“It’s always in the back of your mind,” said Kelso, who grew up in Aberdeen as a Colts and Orioles fan whose favorite players included Colts icon Johnny Unitas and Orioles shortstop Frank Robinson.

Kelso was a businessman in his early thirties and a Colts season ticket holder when the club left, leaving him in “total shock”, he said.

“At the beginning of my tenure, I had this mindset of not wanting to be the president of the MSA that lost the Orioles,” he said. “But you really have to weigh your fears against the economic realities of what makes sense. No MSA chair is ever in a position to write a blank check so the Orioles or Ravens don’t lose. We are a public body.”

Thompson said he embraces the concept of states partnering with professional sports teams, but that there is no “cookie cutter” model.

“When people talk about public-private partnerships, I think the most important ‘P’ is the last one,” Thompson said. “I think the role of the state is to be a partner with private entities, with interested parties, who want to act in the interest of citizens. Therefore, my view is that any government assistance partnership involved should be complementary.”

Thompson said he hopes to build a relationship with Angelos, to whom he was introduced, built on trust. “From my perspective, any future communication with John is still for relationship building. It’s going to be really important that he gets comfortable with me and I get comfortable with him and we start listening to each other,” Thompson said. He worked for the law firm of Angelos’ father, Peter Angelos, early in his career, but has no personal relationship with Angelos or any family members.

Kelso helped craft a financing approach approved a year ago by the General Assembly under which the authority can borrow up to $1.2 billion to pay for stadium improvements — $600 million each for the Orioles and Ravens . No bonds can be issued without a lease, and the lease must be long enough to pay off the long-term bonds.

In January, The Ravens signed a new 15-year lease which the club believes will – with the help of the new funding – allow it to upgrade the 25-year-old city center stadium with 71,000 seats and extend its life.

Once that deal was done, additional attention was paid to the Orioles situation.

Team executives have expressed hope that a new deal will not only strengthen their commitment to Baltimore, but guide revitalization of the area around Camden Yards so it can attract visitors — and tax dollars — even on non-game days.

Construction of the Atlanta stadium, which opened in 2017, occurred as a huge, adjacent, mixed-use development called The Battery Atlanta was built. It includes shops, restaurants and a music venue.

“The idea is to start thinking out loud about what the area around the Orioles complex can look like,” Thompson said Thursday of the site inspection in Atlanta. “Battery Field and Braves Stadium are looked upon and admired by some as a model.”

It was Moore’s first trip as governor outside the Maryland-Washington region.

“Ensuring a successful partnership with Maryland’s sports teams is a priority for the governor,” said Moore spokesman Carter Elliott.

The Orioles’ lease with the stadium authority began in 1992 and was set to expire at the end of 2021. The parties agreed in February 2021 to extend the agreement by two years through December 31, 2023.

Absence of a new lease — and the team’s Jan. 31 decision to opt out of a five-year extension while pursuing a more comprehensive deal — left some fans worried the team could leave town.

Louis Angelos, John’s younger brother, alleged in a lawsuit last year in Baltimore County that John could move the team. The lawsuit — a battle over the assets of ailing 93-year-old family patriarch Peter Angelos — was withdrawn by the parties along with a countersuit in February and John Angelos has repeatedly said the club will not leave Baltimore.

John Angelos could not be reached for comment Thursday. In a press release, the team said the Atlanta visit “was part of the ongoing collaboration with the Orioles, the state of Maryland and the greater Baltimore area to redevelop Camden Yards.”

In September, Angelos wrote a memo to the team’s front office staff saying intends to sign a new lease. He wrote that the hire will be part of a larger “memorandum of understanding,” highlighting the team’s “special relationship with the state of Maryland and the Greater Baltimore area” and emphasizing “our philosophy of what a true public-private partnership should be “.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which opened in 1992 and seats about 45,000, was funded by the state. M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Ravens, was also built with public money and opened in 1998.

“When Oriole Park was built in the early ’90s, there wasn’t much resistance to public funding,” said Joel Maxcy, a sports business professor at Drexel University. While economists have since questioned the economic development value to states of subsidizing the construction or renovation of stadiums, “for me, lately, it’s come back again. We see teams that are already being replaced [baseball] stadiums that are 25 to 30 years old or about the same age in Texas and Atlanta,” Maxcy said.

In Maryland in particular, the professor said, supporters of public stadium funding have “a pretty strong case politically: ‘We don’t want to lose another team.’ The people of Baltimore absolutely know that pain. I think you’d be defamed if you weren’t fighting for the Orioles and Ravens right now.

In addition to Baltimore’s professional stadiums, the stadium authority’s responsibilities include overseeing the redevelopment of the old Pimlico and Laurel Park thoroughbred racetracks. This braided project has stalled amid rising construction costs and interest rates, and the schedule has been pushed back significantly.

Kelso said the stadium authority’s role is limited to issuing bonds and overseeing design and construction. The Maryland Jockey Club (the track’s owner), the city of Baltimore and the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association “will have to come to an agreement with the governor and the legislature on any changes to the bill necessary to get the job done,” he said. .


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