Baltimore Stallions owner Jim Speros said yesterday that he expects to have a plan in place by Feb. 15 to pay off his $600,000 debt to local vendors.
"I've been counseled by legal counsel that we are going to mitigate our damages here in Baltimore and those vendors will be contacted," Speros said at his final Baltimore news conference before moving the Grey Cup champions to Montreal. "We plan on getting all this resolved in a fashion that everyone will be satisfied."
Speros also said he will resolve his debt with the city and provide refunds for people who deposited $100 for 1996 season tickets.
Anyone who made his deposit by cash or check can claim his refund at Memorial Stadium's ticket windows Feb. 12-23 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Speros also said everyone who put down a deposit for season tickets is urged to contact him and he will provide them with free tickets and airfare to the team's first Canadian Football League game at Montreal's Olympic Stadium.
There is a dispute over the sum the city is owed, and Speros said he wants to settle that first before addressing the vendors' situation. Speros said the amount is around $200,000; the city has said it's owed $400,000.
"We have a number of things that we are going to have to take care of legally with the city of Baltimore," Speros said. "We will be meeting with these officials over the next week and a half, but by Feb. 15 a plan will be in place for our vendors."
Some of the vendors remain skeptical, however, and at least three have filed lawsuits against the team.
"I'll believe it when I see it," said Steve Wilkinson of the Wilkinson Corp., which is owed approximately $20,000 by the Stallions for T-shirts it designed.
Speros did not detail his plan, although he has requested $2.75 million from the city of Montreal "to cover moving expenses and to pay off debts in Baltimore."
Serge Menard, provincial minister of state for the Montreal region, said yesterday, however, that the team may have been overly optimistic when it announced last week that a deal for the funding was all but done. He said the project looked attractive and the financial request was reasonable, but he would not confirm the money would be made available.
The money would come from a government industrial development agency that needs approval from the province to invest in areas outside its jurisdiction -- such as a pro sports team.
But Menard's comments did not dampen Speros' enthusiasm for his relocation in Montreal.
"Montreal is giving me an opportunity to sign a 15-year lease," said Speros, who will hold a news conference today at Rusty Staub's restaurant in Montreal. "I will control the venue. I will control football in Montreal. The NFL can't come in and take my lease. I will own the lease. We will sign the lease and get this thing finalized within the next 48 hours.
"If I take the same blueprint I used in Baltimore to Montreal, I really believe we'll get 50,000-60,000 people in the stands."
Speros suggested that his team's presence in Montreal could help mend a country that was only a referendum away from having Quebec secede in October.
"We've become a political issue in town," said Speros, a Virginia resident who said he will move to Montreal. "They're talking about how by moving our football team back to Quebec, it's going to reunite Canada back together. They're looking at us as being a positive movement for Quebec."
Speros said he was proud of his two-year stint in Baltimore and thanked the fans who supported the team.
"It was the fans that kept me driven," he said. "I will leave Baltimore with my head up, the same way I came in. I brought football to Baltimore. We won a championship. No one can criticize me for what I did in Baltimore."
Speros said the team is likely to be renamed the Alouettes -- the name of Montreal's CFL team that folded in 1987 -- and that he would retain rights to the name Stallions.
The NBA Washington Bullets are looking for a new name, however, and Stallions is among their five choices.
"If that's the name they want, I'm sure I'll be contacted by the Bullets' organization," said Speros, who lost a lawsuit to the NFL over use of the name Colts. "And I think I'm a reasonable man."