D.C. not only contender to be Expos' new home


Harm or help?

If Major League Baseball decides to put the Expos in Washington, would it spell doom for the Orioles? Or would a club down the road serve to spur the team's improvement? Page 1A

If Peter Angelos gets his wish and Major League Baseball doesn't relocate the Montreal Expos to the Washington area, the team will have to play somewhere next season.

MLB has emphatically said the Expos will have a new permanent home for 2005. Of course, officials said the same thing last year and two years ago.

When Bob DuPuy, baseball's president and chief operating officer and the head of the relocation committee, was asked last month if he was confident that the decision would be made this year, he first laughed.

"I was confident it would be done last year," he said.

DuPuy's committee is readying a report that analyzes the contenders and will soon be presented to commissioner Bud Selig.

Selig's decision, which would need to be approved by three-fourths of the owners, should come sometime around the All-Star Game on July 13.

Besides Washington and Northern Virginia, the contenders for the Expos are Norfolk, Va.; Las Vegas; Portland, Ore.; Monterrey, Mexico; and San Juan, Puerto Rico. This year, for the second season in a row, the Expos are playing 22 "home" games at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan.

Though the Norfolk area is close enough to Baltimore that some cable television subscribers in the area get Orioles games, club owner Angelos said he is not opposed to a team there.

Here is a look at the contenders outside the region:

Norfolk, Va.

William Somerindyke Jr., the CEO of Norfolk Baseball Co., who is fronting the Hampton Roads bid, said last week he has received deposits for 65 luxury suites and 5,000 season tickets since the beginning of a drive that started late last month.

Somerindyke is fighting to show that, despite having a metro area population of just 1.65 million, the area could support a major league team.

He is quick to point out that, if you include the area from Hampton Roads to Richmond (90 miles away), the population is a little less than 3 million.

Somerindyke also said his bid "has one of the most attractive stadium packages in the country."

A $300 million, 38,000-seat stadium along the Elizabeth River in downtown Norfolk would be paid for by bonds financed mostly by taxes on hotel rooms and rental cars, he said.

Somerindyke also touts the large Navy presence in Norfolk as a "huge advantage."

"People say it's low median income, but a lot of people don't realize it's high discretionary income," he said.

Las Vegas

Despite the fact that there are only 1.7 million people in the metropolitan area, Las Vegas is the fastest-growing city in the country and one of the top vacation destinations. It can build a $550 million stadium close to the Strip with private money. A Major League Baseball team would have the pro sports market all to itself.

There's just one little issue: gambling.

"I think you would hear some people say a city like Las Vegas, because of the other form of entertainment that's very prominent there, would never have a major league sports franchise," said Thomas J. DeRosa, vice chairman and chief financial officer of Columbia-based Rouse Co., which has sizable interests in Las Vegas, including the development of the planned community of Summerlin and the Fashion Show Mall on the Strip.

The proximity of the casinos and the sports books to a team is clearly a concern to MLB. DuPuy said it was a "serious issue and one of the considerations" of the Las Vegas bid.

But he also said: "There's now gaming in, I think, 28 states. It's become more accepted than 20 or 30 years ago."

Said Rouse's DeRosa: "I bet it would be quite successful. Las Vegas 25 years ago was a gaming destination. Today, it is a destination for food ... shopping and fashion, golf, music.

"People go there to be entertained. What's one of the best forms of entertainment? Sitting and watching a baseball game."

Monterrey, Mexico

Selig loves the idea of "internationalizing" baseball. Remember that the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays played the first two games of the 2004 season in Tokyo.

And Monterrey Stadium, which seats 27,000 but could be expanded to 30,000 in time for Opening Day 2005, hosted the major league opener in 1999. The San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies drew 27,104.

But the economic realities may doom Monterrey, Mexico's third-largest metropolitan area with 3.24 million people.

The average Mexican worker makes less than $500 a month. When tickets cost $15, that makes it tough to bring your wife and two kids to the ballpark and buy them hot dogs and drinks.

But Jose Maiz Garcia, the construction magnate who is leading the bid, said Monterrey has a higher standard of living than the rest of the country.

"I think that many of the market would come from cities around here," he said. "I just would like major leagues to give us the opportunity to have a chance to have a team here. But sooner or later, they will come to Mexico."

Portland, Ore.

To a smaller extent, Portland's biggest problem is similar to the Washington area's biggest problem - proximity to an existing team.

The Rose City, with its metro population of 2.3 million, is three hours from Seattle, but the Mariners' games are on the radio and television there.

Randy Adamack, the Mariners' vice president of communications, said the team is letting Major League Baseball do the research on the contenders for the Expos.

"We haven't really done any market studies or anything like that on this particular subject," he said. "And whatever baseball determined was the best market for baseball overall to be successful, that we would be supportive of."

However, an MLB source said Seattle ownership is extremely opposed to a team in Portland.

Leaders of the Portland bid helped push a bill through the Oregon legislature that would pay for about $124 million of the projected $350 million cost of a new stadium. Taxes on tickets and concessions and merchandise, a fee assessed on businesses within a short distance of the new stadium and a "charter license fee" (similar to a permanent seat license) for the best seats in the house make up the majority of the rest of the stadium financing plan.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

The Expos again are playing 22 home games at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, the largest stadium in Puerto Rico. Last year, they drew an average of 14,222 to the 19,000-seat field.

This year, they are averaging 11,844 after 11 games.

Hiram Bithorn Stadium was built in 1962 and would have to be extensively renovated or replaced - at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars - for San Juan to be seriously considered.

Representatives from the group that brought the Expos' games to Puerto Rico did not return numerous phone calls seeking information about their bid to become the team's permanent home.

An article in Monday's Sports section about the relocation of the Expos misstated a figure in the proposal that Las Vegas has submitted to Major League Baseball. The privately financed stadium would cost $420 million. The Sun regrets the errors.
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