Peter Schmuck: Impertinent questions about the Orioles' new stadium lease - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Peter Schmuck

Peter Schmuck: Impertinent questions about the Orioles’ new stadium lease

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Maybe I’m missing something, but the reported terms of the Orioles’ new stadium lease make me wonder if it was negotiated by Scott Boras.

Oriole fans have been waiting and worrying for years while the team and the Maryland Stadium Authority worked on what we all thought would be a 30-year lease that put all that angst to rest.

Now, we’re finding out that the lease agreement that Governor Wes Moore was touting earlier this month only locked the Orioles into Oriole Park for 10 years, which rightly met with resistance from the Maryland legislature.

The revised agreement guarantees only 15 years and includes all sorts of opt-out clauses, team options and possible extension scenarios, and Moore apparently has assurances that the stadium authority board of directors and the Maryland Board of Public Works will rubber stamp it on Monday.

This is supposedly going to be “great” for Maryland taxpayers, but the Orioles and Ravens were promised $600 million each for stadium improvements as an incentive to sign firm long-term leases, which I think the average fan or taxpayer assumed would be guaranteed for closer to 30 years. Either way, that is an enormous amount of money regardless of how it’s financed or whether it breaks down to $40 million apiece for 15 years of $20 million apiece for 30 years.

The Ravens signed a 15-year lease extension (with options for two five-year add-ons) last January and already are accessing that money. The Orioles’ deal is more complex, because of the team’s desire to acquire redevelopment rights to state-owned property around the ballpark. But that issue has been shelved for up to four years in the renegotiated agreement and may actually determine whether the deal ends up being for 15 years or 30 or somewhere in between..

Maybe I’m way off base, but it also looks like the opt-out conditions give the Orioles all the bargaining power while they continue to negotiate for those redevelopment rights.

That would not be surprising, since Moore surrendered a lot of leverage earlier this year when he basically promised fans and the citizens of Maryland that he would get a deal done before the December 31st expiration of the existing lease. The Orioles have always been pretty good at getting what they want from the MSA, but that certainly made their work at the bargaining table easier.

Is this a good deal for Maryland taxpayers? Well, if the alternative is the Orioles moving out of Baltimore and leaving Oriole Park vacant, of course it’s good for everyone. But that probably isn’t the best measure of the success of the negotiations.

Orioles CEO John Angelos already had made a similar promise to fans, famously invoking Fort McHenry, but that kind of promise has been broken by sports franchise owners before with little consequence. Moore has his reputation as an emerging power player in the Democratic Party and maybe future presidential candidate in play, so letting the lease expire in two weeks was not an option.

The original redevelopment scheme would have given the Orioles rights to the state properties for 99 years for just under $1 million per year, which doesn’t sound like much when the state is already promising the team $600 million, but the specific time frame and rental terms were dropped out of the latest version of the lease.

I don’t have an issue with the idea of maximizing those assets to create a better fan and tourist experience around the ballpark … if it really makes economic sense for all concerned.

Though the Orioles and Ravens leases appear to be similar, I would like to know how the still-unresolved redevelopment aspects of the Orioles’ deal will affect the MSA’s relationship with their other tenant, since I seem to remember that the original Orioles lease had a parity clause that required the MSA to give the team equal value for any enhancements to the Ravens’ lease. Don’t know if a parity arrangement still exists between the teams, but somebody might want to ask before giving away the farm to the Orioles.

RAVENS LINKS FROM BALTIMORESPORTS.COM

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