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Orioles agree to extend lease at Camden Yards through 2023 as talks continue on long-term commitment

The Orioles have agreed to extend their lease with the Maryland Stadium Authority to remain at Oriole Park at Camden Yards through 2023, a commitment both parties characterize as a place holder while they continue to negotiate a deal to keep the team at the stadium —and in Baltimore — for the long term.

The current lease expires at the end of 2021, although the Orioles have long had the option to extend it for five years. The stadium authority said Monday that the parties agreed to extend the current 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. The arrangement must still be approved by the Board of Public Works, which oversees state spending.

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“The Baltimore Orioles have stated publicly that they remain committed to Baltimore and to Maryland,” said Thomas Kelso, chairman of the stadium authority, which is the landlord for the Orioles and Ravens on behalf of the state.

“The MSA and the Orioles are currently discussing terms of a new lease and capital reinvestment that would keep the team playing in an upgraded Oriole Park at Camden Yards that would offer increased economic benefits from both baseball and year-round, non-baseball uses.”

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The effort to renew the franchise’s commitment to Baltimore is significant because it comes during a period of uncertainty over the club’s future ownership. Peter Angelos, 91, continues to hold a majority of the limited partnership that owns the Orioles, but he has been in ill health for years. The Baltimore Sun reported that Major League Baseball team owners voted privately last year to approve John Angelos, his son, as “control person” for the club, meaning he succeeded his father as the executive responsible for the team.

While sons John and Louis Angelos could one day own the Orioles, uncertainties about the club’s future stewards had created buzz that the team could leave Baltimore, a small-market city relative to others in Major League Baseball. The parties expressed hope that two years would be long enough to agree on a new lease, and that the state will have returned by then to some semblance of post-pandemic economic normalcy.

The Orioles and the MSA confirmed last June — one year after Camden Yards hosted a successful Billy Joel concert — that they were seeking a new lease deal that could open the ballpark to more year-round uses. Both parties said they needed additional time because the economic uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic made it an unfavorable time to approach the General Assembly about state funding.

The negotiations have been complex. The club has spoken publicly about its hopes of capitalizing on the stadium’s popularity by using it increasingly for non-baseball activities such as music. That could involve new venues such as bars, restaurants — possibly even a sports betting room — in the stadium area. But officials from the club and the state say no such plans have been finalized, and that it was too soon to publicly discuss modifications to the stadium itself that are expected to be part of lease negotiations.

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The extension announced Monday was characterized as “an important collaborative step” by John Angelos, the team’s chairman and chief executive officer.

He said the Orioles’ partnership group is composed of “native Marylanders with a vision of continuing our long-term commitment as economic development and community contributors for generations to come.”

The original lease began April 1, 1992, and was set to continue through December 2021. Thirty years is a standard period for such an agreement, although there is no requirement that it be that long.

With the elder Angelos ailing, John Angelos, who is an attorney, and other club executives have sought to assure Baltimore fans that the franchise is stable and intends to remain in the city. In 2019, John Angelos told a crowd of Baltimore business leaders that the team would stay in Baltimore “as long as Fort McHenry is standing watch over the Inner Harbor.”

In a letter emailed to fans in November, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said he wanted to make clear “that there is nothing uncertain about the future of your Orioles in Baltimore.”

The letter came days after The Sun reported that people are looking to form groups to buy the club, should the Angelos family decide to sell it. The team has indicated no plans to sell.

Selling the team while Peter Angelos is alive would subject the owner to steep capital gains taxes based on how much the club’s value has appreciated over the years. If his heirs sold the Orioles soon after his death, tax laws would give them the enormous benefit of eliminating the capital gains tax because the club would be assessed at the current fair-market value.

The Angelos family has said it would be premature to release any succession plan for the club.

Like all clubs, the Orioles took an economic hit when the coronavirus pandemic shortened the team’s 2020 season to 60 games and kept fans out of Camden Yards. The club is hopeful of starting the 2021 season with some fans on hand, assuming it receives the proper governmental approvals.

Opened in 1992, Camden Yards is still consistently rated among the best stadiums in Major League Baseball in fan and media surveys. But many newer stadiums are smaller and include open concourses with field views and stadium clubs for VIPs that offer prime low-level views. Newer venues, such as the Atlanta Braves’ Truist Park, Nationals Park in Washington and Marlins Park in Miami, have fewer seats than the 46,000 at Camden Yards. Orioles executives have said they want Camden Yards to cater to a new generation of fans accustomed to mingling and activity rather than just sitting.

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