Change of cities turns villain Modell into hero

Sun Staff

Art Modell left Cleveland yesterday being called a thief in the night.

He arrived in Baltimore to chants of "Art, Art, Art."

It was a day of mixed emotions for the Cleveland Browns owner, whoannounced he's moving the team to Baltimore after spending 35 years inCleveland.

"It was an agonizing moment. Terrible. I didn't want to dance on the graveof the people in Cleveland," Mr. Modell said in an interview after his newsconference.

"Still, I was re-enforced by the reception I got [in Baltimore]. At theluncheon [afterward], the business and political people were genuine in theirwelcome, which I'm really grateful for. They really opened up their hearts tous."

He said the vilification he's getting in Cleveland isn't fair.

"I hear they're saying I'm like a thief in the night," Mr. Modell said."My gosh, they've had six years to do something. They spent $650 million for abaseball park, a basketball arena and a rock and roll museum and a sciencemuseum, and all I wanted to do is get inside plumbing.

"It's very tough. I don't want to read the papers. I don't want anyone totell me what's in the papers. But it's vicious, and their anger is directed atthe wrong person. It should be at their community leaders, the business andgovernment leaders.

"But I'm an easy scapegoat."

Mr. Modell has been criticized in Cleveland for not saying publicly what heneeded to stay, but said he'd been telling the city since 1989 that he hadproblems with Cleveland Stadium.

(Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White said yesterday that Mr. Modell firstpresented the city a renovation plan in December 1994.)

"We sent them volumes and volumes of information that the league hasassembled about what other teams are getting," Mr. Modell said. "That shouldhave been enough of a guideline. They haven't matched anything."

He said things got worse when the baseball stadium and basketball arenawere built.

"A big promise was made. They said, 'Look, we're taking care of Gateway[baseball and basketball]. You're next. You'll be taken care of.' Right.

"I kept asking. I kept waiting. Three suits went out of style, and I'mstill waiting," he said.

Whether it was a new stadium or a refurbished one, Mr. Modell said heneeded a stadium with what he called "revenue streams."

"Revenue is the name of the game. I couldn't make it otherwise. I couldn'tmake it here without revenues. That's what happening in our league. Our leaguehas changed considerably," he said.

When asked why he made the move this year and not last year, Mr. Modellsaid the problem was the continued salary escalation.

"There's been enormous, enormous salary and bonuses to players. Our playercosts have spiraled. The salary cap is not working. When [Dallas Cowboysowner] Jerry Jones has to sign Deion Sanders, he just opens up his checkbook.When I signed Andre Rison, I had to scrounge around looking for a bank to loanme the money," he said.

Mr. Modell also said he did a lot for Cleveland.

"I gave them my life there, 35 years," he said. "I put more than I shouldhave into that community, more than most people. More than 99 percent of thepeople. I saved the Cleveland Indians from going to New Orleans. I got SteveO'Neill to buy it to keep the Indians in town."

Mr. Modell also said he came to Baltimore without getting any guaranteesor upfront money.

"I don't get one nickel out of the PSLs [permanent seat licenses]," hesaid. Funds from seat licenses can cover only expenses related to the Browns'move.

Asked why he didn't demand guarantees, Mr. Modell said: "Because I haveconfidence in my product, my ability to market our product. We've done it foryears in Cleveland. We'll do it here and then some."

Mr. Modell is buying out former minority partner Bob Gries, but he saidit's on a 10-year payout starting in 1997. He said there's no bank involved.He declined to say how much he paid Mr. Gries.

Mr. Modell said he isn't immediately cutting his ties to Cleveland.

"We're not selling our home. We're going to come down here. We're gong toestablish residence here. Let's see what plays out in the next couple ofyears, although eventually, we will [sell]. We can't keep two homes," he said.

He added: "We're anxiously awaiting to settle down here. I've told thegovernor and mayor we'll become citizens of Baltimore."

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