Eager to give Baltimore's new football franchise a home of its own, city officials are telling Stallions owner Jim Speros to get out of Memorial Stadium before they throw his team's belongings in the street.
Miffed by his failure to move his property out of the stadium's corporate offices, city attorneys took the first step Tuesday in evicting Mr. Speros, filing suit for $73,000 he owes in back rent and ordering him to attend a hearing next week in rent court.
While city officials want the rent -- Mr. Speros is also the target of two other city lawsuits seeking a total of $575,000 -- the office space is of primary concern since Art Modell and his NFL team are clamoring to get up and running. Mr. Speros is relocating his Canadian Football League team to Montreal.
Whichever way they get the office, by force or agreement, would be welcome to Baltimore's new NFL team. As of tomorrow, team officials say they'll be homeless, because their temporary lease runs out on a Pratt Street property they've been renting since coming to Baltimore.
Team spokesman David Hopcraft said club officials "are scrambling around with cellular phones with no place to go" and are becoming increasingly frustrated by their ordeals in Baltimore.
"Right now, we're a football team without a name, colors, or a place to sit our fat asses," Mr. Hopcraft said yesterday. "As of Friday, we'll all have to sit in our rented condominiums and try and communicate through electronic mail, provided we can find a computer that works."
Clinton R. Coleman, spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, said the mayor and Mr. Speros will meet this morning at City Hall to try to iron out some of the problems. Mr. Speros requested the meeting.
"It's a reached a serious stage. Baltimore's NFL team needs the space," Mr. Coleman said. "We want to talk to Mr. Speros about the money he owes and get an understanding of what his plans are."
Mr. Speros couldn't be reached last night and Mr. Coleman refused to discuss the suit filed in rent court. But a source in the mayor's office said that the Stallions' executive offices at the stadium still have office furniture and club property, making it impossible for the NFL team to move in.
"The mayor is going to speak to Mr. Speros very frankly. He's going to say, 'Here's our problem: We need you to get out, and if you don't, we'll seize your stuff,'" said the source.
City constables said they mailed Mr. Speros a "failure to pay rent" notice Tuesday and also will post the notice somewhere on Memorial Stadium -- something that put them at a loss. "Where do we put it? Under the big logo? This is a first," said one constable.
If Mr. Speros doesn't pay the rent or convince a judge he doesn't have to, then city officials can obtain an eviction notice, entitling them to throw his property off the grounds within 10 days of receiving the notice.
The office is where Mr. Speros and the Stallions have displayed the historic Grey Cup, the championship CFL trophy that the team won last season. It is unclear whether the cup is still in the office and whether it would be tossed out with any other property in the event of an eviction.
The strong-arm tactics come as Mr. Speros is facing a storm of criticism, lawsuits and angry creditors, who claim that the once-popular team owner reneged on promises to pay off debts. He owes at least $200,000 to local vendors, ranging from a Towson company that made Stallions T-shirts for the playoffs to a Montgomery County sporting goods store that provided uniforms.
Mr. Hopcraft said team officials haven't had any contact with Mr. Speros about the offices or anything else.
The corporate offices at Memorial Stadium were locked yesterday but Mr. Speros' personal secretary, Elizabeth Carbone, said the office is still open.
In his final news conference in Baltimore on Feb. 5, Mr. Speros vowed to resolve the debts both to the city and to the more than 20 local business owners he owed money. He said he will use a $2.75 million loan -- provided him by the governments of Montreal and the province of Quebec -- to settle matters back in Baltimore.
Canadian officials have agreed to the loan in principle but have not yet signed over the money.