With already funded plans to upgrade their home and an eye toward how their neighborhood has improved over the years, the Ravens want to extend their lease on M&T Bank Stadium for at least 15 years and as long as 25 years.
“We felt it was important to show a commitment to the community, to the city, to the state, to our fans,” said Chad Steele, the team’s senior vice president for communications.
The state’s Board of Public Works will vote at a meeting Wednesday on whether to approve the lease between the Ravens and the Maryland Stadium Authority, the quasi-public agency that owns the facility.
While the Ravens have worked for at least 1 1/2 years to extend their lease, the agreement the team negotiated with the stadium authority appears to have gone through a preliminary process last month in advance of the state getting the final say Wednesday.
According to the authority, the Ravens received approval Dec. 14 from the National Football League for “general business terms of an agreement as related to stadium renovations.” Then, the authority’s board of directors held an ad hoc meeting Dec. 27 and approved the new lease agreement to present to the state’s spending panel, which is composed of the governor, comptroller and treasurer.
“MSA is extremely pleased with the proposed new stadium lease agreement with Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium that continues our strong partnership with the team through the end of the 2037 NFL season with two 5 year options to extend,” the authority said in a statement Monday.
The Ravens’ current lease doesn’t expire until the end of 2027, but the team appears eager to begin upgrading its home of 24 years. The Board of Public Works agenda item noted that the agreement was negotiated “in anticipation” of a request that the board issue bonds “for improvements and renovations to the football stadium in the near future.”
The Maryland General Assembly last year authorized the stadium authority to borrow up to $1.2 billion — split evenly between M&T and the Orioles’ Camden Yards — for improvements to the facilities. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan signed the measure into law in April.
According to the stadium authority, while the Ravens’ new lease is “fundamentally the same as the agreement presently in place, it offers greater protections to the MSA, additional revenue opportunities to the team that are in line with current stadium trends and opportunities to collaborate on improvements that will enhance the fan experience.”
The new lease forbids the Ravens from relocating, and requires that the team play home games at M&T with “limited” exceptions. The team will pay no rent, but will continue to pay operations and maintenance costs, either directly or reimbursed by the authority. With limited exceptions, the Ravens will keep the revenue from the stadium.
In the summer of 2021, the Ravens had begun preliminary talks with the stadium authority on “an extended lease,” Dick Cass, then the Ravens’ president, told The Baltimore Sun in January 2022. He said the team did not want to delay potential upgrades, such as additional lower-bowl premium seating and better access to new developments on the Warner Street corridor.
Both Steele and the stadium authority declined to specify what improvements the Ravens have planned.
The stadium authority board went into closed session Dec. 27 to discuss the lease, an audiotape on the stadium authority’s website shows. Chairman Thomas Kelso opened the meeting and almost immediately sought and received motions to go into executive session. He cited exemptions to state open meeting laws, such as a need to discuss the Ravens’ “commercial information” and to hear from authority lawyers bound by attorney-client privilege. After 40 minutes, members returned to open session and unanimously approved the lease agreement.
The authority board held its regular monthly meeting Tuesday, briefly noting the upcoming vote on the lease by the Board of Public Works but saying little else. Executive Director Michael Frenz noted he didn’t want to “jinx” anything.
“One more big step, then we can really celebrate,” Frenz said.
It will be the last public works meeting before Hogan leaves office Jan. 18.
”The Ravens are a world-class organization and source of great pride for Marylanders,” Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci said in an email. “We look forward to advancing this agreement to keep the franchise in Baltimore for decades to come.”
Spokeswomen for Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot, who is also leaving office, and Democratic Treasurer Derrick Davis said those officials were reviewing the lease and would not comment before Wednesday’s meeting.
Davis has been critical in the past of the stadium authority’s largesse with taxpayers’ money toward the sports franchises. In May, he criticized the authority for letting the Orioles keep all the profits from a concert by Paul McCartney. At a Board of Public Works meeting in October, Davis questioned why the authority was spending $50,000 for an impact study for a soccer stadium in the Baltimore area when such reports always reach the same conclusion.
“We’re going to have thousands of construction jobs ... It’s going to draw hotels and restaurants and so forth,” Davis said. “They all say the same thing and they very rarely live up to what they say.
“Is that the best use of our resources?” he said.
Such public expenditures “are not a good buy for the taxpayer,” said Stephen J.K. Walters, a sports economist. “Taxpayers are not getting an adequate return.”
The Loyola University professor emeritus of economics said the system of governments serving as landlord to tenant sports franchises needs to be rethought. Walters said rather than go through periodic negotiations over leases and who gets how much of stadium revenues, such facilities should be privately owned.
“Buy in. Take out a mortgage. Get the property on the tax rolls,” Walters said. “Once you own something, you can figure out new ways to use the facility and benefit not just yourself but the city.”
Still, he acknowledges, residents have proved that they are willing to support sports teams with their taxes.
“We do like fun,” Walters said. “We like sports, and we’re willing to pay to have them around.”
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And indeed, other amusements have sprouted around the Ravens’ and Orioles’ fields — a Top Golf facility recently opened, and there are plans for a concert venue. Steele cited the growing neighborhood as something the team wants to embrace.
“I went down there when Marshal Yanda was here. He had an event at Top Golf,” Steele said of the former Ravens guard who was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor in December. “Exciting things are happening down there.”
As the Ravens seek to lock down their residency, the Orioles are approaching the end of their lease. Originally set to expire at the end of 2021, it was extended through Dec. 31, 2023. The team has until Feb. 1 to exercise a one-time, five-year extension.
The family of O’s owner Peter Angelos, who has been incapacitated by illness, have been waging a bitter legal fight over control of the team and his other assets. His older son, John Angelos, the Orioles chairman and CEO, has told staff he intends to sign a new lease keeping the team in Baltimore.
Their neighboring Ravens certainly would welcome that.
“We’ve long felt Camden Yards has been an anchor for Baltimore and downtown, along with the stadium, along with what’s going on downtown,” Steele said. “It’s a huge benefit to the city and state, bringing in a ton of revenue. We wanted to make sure we’re a part of that positive economic impact.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Hayes Gardner contributed to this article.