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Baltimore Orioles

Orioles to get rent credit for $3.5M cost of left-field wall project as lease talks continue

The Orioles expect that it will cost up to $3.5 million to reconfigure the left-field wall at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, money that will be deducted from their rent over the next few years.

Top state officials on Wednesday approved a plan for the Maryland Stadium Authority, which owns the downtown stadium, to discount the baseball club’s rent in exchange for the work that’s being done.

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The Orioles would get one-fifth of the cost deducted from their rent in 2022 and 2023. And if the club extends their lease or signs a new lease past the current 2023 expiration, they’d continue to get rent credits in 2024, 2025 and 2026 under the deal.

The Orioles are demolishing the current left-field wall and building a new one that’s taller and farther back, in hopes of making it a bit tougher for batters to hit home runs. The goal, team officials have said, is to strike a better balance between pitchers and hitters in what has historically been a hitter-friendly ballpark.

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A Baltimore Sun analysis determined that at least 14% of home runs hit at Camden Yards since 2015 would have stayed in play with the ballpark’s new left-field configuration.

Orioles officials did not speak at Wednesday’s video meeting of the Maryland Board of Public Works, where the rent credit was approved. The team did not respond to questions from The Baltimore Sun about the rent credit. Instead, a spokesman pointed to a prior statement about lease negotiations from Orioles Senior Vice President Greg Bader, in which he said both the team and the state “feel very strongly that we want to renew this partnership.”

The rent credits — which work out to $700,000 per year — could represent a significant discount on what the Orioles pay to the stadium authority.

The team’s rent is based on a percentage of certain revenues, including ticket sales and advertising. With the effects of a pandemic lingering and the team struggling on the field, revenues have dropped and the rent for the 12 months ending last June 30 was $1.6 million.

The average annual rent over the 30 years the stadium has been open is $6.8 million.

The rent discounts for the left-field wall project required approval of the Maryland Board of Public works, a three-member panel that oversees state spending. One member, Treasurer Dereck Davis, raised concerns about whether giving millions of dollars in rent credits to a professional sports team was the best use of state dollars.

“Why should we vote for this? Why should we support this?” asked Davis, a Democrat. “From my reading, there’s not any kind of structural issue or decay or decline. This is a cosmetic request.”

Davis said he’s an Orioles fan and understands the team’s reasoning for moving the left-field wall. But he suggested the team should pay for the change.

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Those who supported the rent credit implied that it could be a factor in trying to convince the team to stay at Camden Yards.

The Orioles’ original lease started in 1992 and was slated to expire at the end of 2021. The team and the stadium authority extended the lease through the end of 2023. Negotiations on a new lease have been ongoing.

Because the rent credits are spread out over five years, and the current lease goes for only two more years, “the team has an incentive to extend or otherwise renew the lease,” said Michael J. Frenz, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority.

And if the left-field modification works as planned, the Orioles should be more competitive and draw more fans, resulting in higher ticket sales and bigger lease payments, Frenz said.

Davis didn’t buy that, saying the team’s poor on-field performance is “by design” as the Orioles are rebuilding their player pipeline.

“It’s not the dimensions of Camden Yards, but rather the blueprint for how to move the organization forward .... Speaking very candidly, I won’t say we’re intentionally losing, but we’re not putting the best product on the field,” Davis said.

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Davis voted against the rent credits, while the other members of the Board of Public Works — Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot — voted in favor.

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Hogan indicated that the $3.5 million spent on the left-field wall is just the start of what the state might have to pay in stadium improvements in order to keep the team.

“This is a tiny one compared to the rest of the improvements that will have to be made to extend the lease,” said Hogan, a Republican.

“I think it’s a good sign that they continue to work with us on the lease negotiation,” he said.

Hogan said he likes seeing home runs fly out of the park, but understands that the team is reconfiguring the wall for strategic reasons.

Franchot suggested it’s wise to “cut them some slack” and approve the rent credit in order to keep the long-term negotiations going, “since this whole thing is sensitive as to whether they stay.”

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“It would just tear my heart out if they decided to move,” said Franchot, a Democrat who is also running for governor.

The left-field work is scheduled to be completed by the Orioles home opener against the Toronto Blue Jay on March 31 — though Major League Baseball players and team owners are in the midst of a labor dispute, casting doubt on the start of the season. Team owners locked out the players in December, and bargaining between the two sides has been ongoing.


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