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No-fly zone

The Baltimore Sun

Officials from the city of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and the Federal Aviation Administration met again yesterday in Washington, with an Orioles attorney participating via conference call. And we know about as much today as we did a week ago.

The Orioles want to keep their spring training home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. That has always been their preference, or they wouldn't have signed a 15-year lease with a 15-year option, predicated on being able to tear down and rebuild the 48-year-old stadium they've used since 1996.

The city wants the Orioles to stay and is working with the FAA to make it happen. And the FAA is willing to go along with that wish - if the Orioles will dump $1.3 million into the yearly airport fund, which the FAA claims is fair market value.

I hear they take checks.

Yesterday's meeting was the second in the past two days, and this time, the Orioles were represented by attorney Alan Koslow. Hopefully there wasn't a dropped call, or the Orioles could end up in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Also present yesterday were city manager George Gretsas, representatives from Congressman Ron Klein's office and Kirk Shaffer, the FAA's associate administrator for airports. No other meetings are scheduled, but the FAA wants the city to resubmit further explanation as to why it should be exempt from the fair market value requirement. Once that's done, the FAA expects to make a final decision within a week.

So we continue to wait. We still don't know whether the FAA will lower its demand for the airport fund, which is a significant increase over the $70,000 to $120,000 agreed upon in past years, a total that fluctuated depending on the attendance for exhibition games. Fort Lauderdale mayor Jim Naugle says the FAA is basing its figure on the land being rezoned for industrial use rather than recreational, and on its value rather than the actual income it brings.

Executive vice president John Angelos declined comment yesterday except to say, "The Orioles continue to await notice from the city as to whether or not they've obtained approval for the use of the land for spring training."

Klein released a statement that read, in part: "The facts are clear. A decades-old lease signed by the Orioles organization and the city of Fort Lauderdale has nearly lapsed, and during the term of that lease, FAA code and statutory requirements for leasing airport land have changed. Baseball is a quintessentially American pastime, and for many in our community, the opportunity to see the Orioles at spring training in Fort Lauderdale is a family tradition. For this reason and many others, we all hope the Orioles will remain in Fort Lauderdale for many years to come. Yet we all understand that, at the end of the day, this is a business transaction, and I hope there is a solution that makes business sense for all parties involved."

No matter what happens, the Orioles are almost assured of remaining in Lauderdale next spring, with one club official placing the likelihood at 98 percent. They already have an agreement in place. And though they reportedly are negotiating with Indian River County administrator Joe Baird about possibly moving their spring camp to Vero Beach and have been contacted by officials in Sarasota about replacing the Cincinnati Reds, it is doubtful that either facility would be ready for them before 2010.

The Orioles don't consider Arizona a viable option, so they're going to remain somewhere in Florida.

Club officials refuse to confirm or deny most reports. They don't want to conduct their business in the papers and give the impression that they're openly shopping around, as the Boston Red Sox did when meeting with Sarasota officials and discussing their possible move from Fort Myers.

"It creates ill will," an Orioles official said.

It also makes a reporter's job easier, but that's not their primary concern.

The Orioles don't see any reason to attend these meetings. The city needs the FAA's approval to use the property, and the Orioles prefer to remain on the sideline, waiting to hear from Fort Lauderdale officials whether they can build a new stadium as part of a $40 million plan, agreed upon in December 2006, that also includes demolishing the adjacent soccer stadium and adding more fields. They don't believe it's their place to be at the table. Yesterday's phone call was good enough.

So the city and FAA continue to spar, and we continue to wait. The Orioles know they'll be in Fort Lauderdale in 2009. After that, it's anybody's guess.

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