The morning after the Orioles organization lit up Baltimore by clinching the AL East and splashing an announcement that the Birds are staying in town for the next 30 years, details emerged Friday that things may not be as solid as they seemed in the glow of the center field video screen.
Instead of a lease that will keep the team in Baltimore, the Orioles, Gov. Wes Moore’s administration and the Maryland Stadium Authority said Friday they have agreed to a nonbinding “memorandum of understanding” — essentially an agreement on some issues and a promise to continue working toward a long-term lease.
The placeholder agreement includes the team staying in Baltimore for the next 30 years, allows the Orioles to seek private capital to fund development near Camden Yards, eliminates the rent the Orioles pay to use the ballpark and transfers stadium upkeep, which currently is a state responsibility, to the team.
Money the state saves on maintenance, up to $3.3 million a year, will be given back to the team as a “safety and repair” fund for the duration of the lease, according to those with knowledge of the agreement. Additionally, the memorandum of understanding includes a 99-year ground lease with graduated rent payments for areas around the ballpark that can be developed.
Included in the copy of the memorandum is a note permitting the Orioles to name any portion of the ballpark, or the ballpark itself, so long as it’s not obscene, in violation of applicable law or “antithetical to the character of the Ballpark as a prominent symbol of the State of Maryland.” The Orioles’ original lease was amended in 2001 to allow the team to sell naming rights to the stadium.
Television cameras caught Moore, a Democrat, and Orioles CEO and Chairman John Angelos celebrating the agreement’s announcement Thursday night in a box suite between the third and fourth innings of the Orioles’ 2-0 win over the Boston Red Sox. Media reports and social media posts followed, spreading the news, and diehard Orioles fans everywhere breathed a sigh of relief.
But a deal is far from finished.
Senior Moore officials and others with knowledge of the specifics of the agreement said Friday they have more work to do before a lease will be signed. Although they expect to meet the Dec. 31 deadline, an extension until all parties are satisfied is not off the table. Thursday’s agreement allows the current lease to be extended “as reasonably necessary so as to accommodate the schedule for finalizing all such documents.”
“We need to get this right rather than rush it,” a senior Moore administration official said.
The memorandum of understanding offers a framework of the lease, but there are many unknowns surrounding the final product that would keep the Orioles in Baltimore long term.
Details of the oversight of private sector development are still being worked out, according to senior Moore officials and others with knowledge of the specifics of the agreement. One person with knowledge of the situation said the exact process of oversight will be between the Maryland Stadium Authority, Maryland Board of Public Works and the Orioles.
“The process of doing development will be led by the Orioles,” one senior Moore administration official said. “The state will have a number of approvals and oversight checks on the process. In general, this will be a close partnership developing the vision, and the state being a partner as the Orioles do the on-the-ground work.”
The exact acreage around the ballpark set for development wasn’t immediately disclosed. It will include parking lots to the east of the B&O Warehouse, the Camden Station property on the northeast corner of the ballpark and an area north of Lee Street.
Details of what the development may include are unknown, as well.
In an interview with The New York Times, Angelos included an elementary school as part of his vision. While the state and the Orioles have billed this as a “live, work, play” development. There is no affordable housing requirement within the memorandum of understanding, according to a Moore administration official.
“Ultimately, we do have a vision to bring — whether it’s educational workforce training, health clinic, we do have a vision to bring something or somethings to the property that would be to the benefit of the community,” another person with knowledge of the plans said. “That is a potential example, but it has not been discussed in specific details.”
Until a lease agreement is signed, $600 million in state-funded municipal bonds hang in the balance. The Orioles can tap the money for certain stadium improvements. But, it’s not a blank check and projects must pass state approval.
Maryland Speaker of the House Adrienne A. Jones said in a statement she’s “a lifelong fan” and “committed to keeping the Orioles playing at Camden Yards for decades to come.”
“There are many more steps in the process that need to happen before the legislature has the opportunity to weigh in,” she said.
Jones’ counterpart in the Senate, President Bill Ferguson, declined to comment on the announcement.
Fans have been waiting out the two-year lease extension signed in 2021, after the Orioles’ last contract expired. So when the announcement that the O’s were staying flashed on his television screen Thursday, Patrick Myers and his family cheered, and texts from excited friends lit up his phone.
He’s not so sure the celebration would have been as jubilant had everyone known the details shared Friday.
Myers said Moore and Angelos have put pressure on themselves to get the deal done.
“I think for them to put themselves out there like that, and especially having Wes Moore and John Angelos next to each other celebrating this announcement, I think they’re kind of on the hook for it,” Myers said. “But, at the same time, it’s details that are important. That probably should have been worked out before [they] announced.”
Lifelong O’s fan Joe Lyon caught glimpses of Thursday night’s game while he was bartending in downtown Annapolis. After a headline came across his phone that the O’s had made a deal, he said he thought to himself, “All right, we’re solid for 30 more years. I’ll be dead by then. And all will be good.”
But when told a lease was still unsigned he changed his opinion.
“That seems misleading to me,” he said behind the bar Friday afternoon. “And it doesn’t seem in the best interest of the fans to release a statement like that when there’s so much more to be ironed out.”
When Paul Packett heard news reports that the team had made a deal to stay, his first thought was, “It seems like a long time to be obligated to a contract — 30 years.” But he sounded surprised after learning a long-term lease was not settled.
”I thought it was a done deal,” he said.
Still, the Edgewater resident remains hopeful. “I hope the Orioles stay in Baltimore and play in Camden Yards because it’s a very cool stadium.”