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Politics

Maryland Stadium Authority pitching $1.2 billion plan to keep Orioles, Ravens in their Baltimore stadiums for years

The Maryland Stadium Authority is seeking state legislative approval to borrow up to $1.2 billion to pay for upgrades at the stadium homes of the Ravens and Orioles so the clubs won’t need new pricey new venues in the foreseeable future.

As lease talks continue with both clubs, the authority said its request is designed to demonstrate the state’s commitment to keeping the NFL’s Ravens and Major League Baseball’s Orioles in Baltimore.

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“The longer we can extend the life of these stadiums, the better it is for Baltimore City, Maryland and the teams, and that’s part of the goal here,” Thomas Kelso, the authority’s chairman, told The Baltimore Sun.

As sleek stadiums costing well over $1 billion are built in other cities, the authority said it needs to ensure that the teams can keep Oriole Park at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium in step with stadium trends and a generation of fans accustomed to mingling and activity rather than just sitting and watching the game.

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“The way people watch sports continues to morph from more traditional ‘buy a ticket and sit in a seat’ to something that’s completely different. And our teams need to have that flexibility,” Kelso said.

Oriole Park is 30 years old and M&T Bank Stadium is 24. Some stadiums, such as Turner Field in Atlanta and the former Globe Life Park in Texas, were abandoned by their baseball teams before turning 30.

A bill drafted by the stadium authority and expected to be introduced soon in the Maryland House of Delegates would increase the allowable bond debt for stadium projects from $235 million to $1.2 billion. Up to $600 million in outstanding debt would be allowed for projects at each club’s stadium at any given time.

The legislation would gradually increase the amount of state lottery proceeds that can be used to pay debt service on the bonds — from $20 million to up to $90 million per year. The legislation would require the teams to sign a lease long enough to pay off the bonds.

If the General Assembly approves, the measure would create, in effect, an expanded and flexible pool of funding. Debt could be issued for either team as long as room remained under the $1.2 billion and $90 million caps and the financing was approved by the stadium authority board and the state’s Board of Public Works.

While it varies from place to place, there seems to be “a little more skepticism” about public financing of stadiums than when the Maryland venues were built, said Dennis Coates, a professor of economics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

But opposition in Baltimore, he said, is tempered by its sports history.

Some fans and elected leaders remember the Colts’ middle-of-the-night departure from Baltimore. After decades as Baltimore’s team, the NFL club — in a dispute with the city over improvements to Memorial Stadium — left town for Indianapolis on a March night in 1984.

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“This is a city that experienced a team leaving,” Coates said. “That trauma, I think, sticks with a lot of people.”

Coates said it’s important not to minimize a public expenditure as large as $600 million per stadium.

“On the other hand, $600 million is a drop in the bucket compared to that thing in Dallas,” he said, referring to the more than $1 billion cost of the stadium for the NFL’s Cowboys.

The Los Angeles stadium shared by the NFL’s Rams and Chargers, and the Las Vegas home of the Raiders also cost substantially more.

Leaders of the Democratic-led state House and Senate had no immediate comment as they weighed the proposal.

Senate Minority Leader Bryan Simonaire, an Anne Arundel County Republican, said the topic of stadium funding “is an important discussion that needs to take place.”

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“I have not seen the details of the proposed legislation yet, but I am very supportive of keeping the Ravens and Orioles in Maryland,” Simonaire said.

The Orioles and Ravens are both in lease talks with the stadium authority, and each say they are contemplating stadium upgrades. The authority is not planning to borrow a specific amount of money now while it continues negotiations with the Orioles and Ravens.

At Camden Yards, those changes could include more social spaces, fewer seats and a sports betting area. Ravens officials have expressed interest in additional lower-bowl premium seating.

Both clubs said it would be premature to discuss specific projects.

Major League Baseball owners locked out players last month as they negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. It’s the league’s first work stoppage since the mid-1990s and threatens to delay the start of spring training.

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The Orioles’ original lease with the state began April 1, 1992, and was to expire at the end of 2021. The parties agreed in February 2021 to extend the agreement for two years through Dec. 31, 2023, with the club retaining the right to exercise a one-time, five-year extension by Feb. 1, 2023.

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The lease talks come during a period of uncertainty over the club’s future ownership.

Baltimore attorney and business owner Peter Angelos, 92, continues to hold a majority of the limited partnership that owns the Orioles, but he has been in ill health for years.

His son, John, who succeeded his father in overseeing the club, has said his family is devoted to Baltimore, and he and others have sought to assure fans that the franchise intends to stay put.

The Orioles and the stadium authority say they are confident of reaching a new lease deal.

“We believe strongly that the best way to keep teams playing at the Camden Yards sports complex is to foster a partnership arrangement that makes the teams want to stay,” the authority said in a written statement before the legislation was filed.

The Ravens’ lease isn’t up until after the 2027 season, but the team and the authority say they have begun preliminary talks about an extension.


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