The Orioles and the state of Maryland have finally inked a deal to keep the Major League Baseball team playing at Camden Yards following two key votes on Monday.
The pair of votes came after up-and-down negotiations and close calls that stretched across the better part of this year — and came just days shy of the Dec. 31 expiration of the current lease deal.
The deal guarantees the Orioles will remain at Oriole Park at Camden yards for at least 15 years, and possibly for decades longer if all goes to plan, according to state and team officials.
“This deal is about more than just baseball. This deal is about Baltimore,” Gov. Wes Moore, a Democrat, said at a celebratory news conference in the stadium’s iconic B&O Warehouse.
A Monday afternoon vote from the three-member Board of Public Works, a body chaired by Moore, finalized the deal during a special meeting at the warehouse instead of in Annapolis. Earlier in the day, the Maryland Stadium Authority voted without opposition to support the deal as well.
Moore was flanked by Comptroller Brooke Lierman and Treasurer Dereck Davis as all three put pen to paper and smiled for a bank of TV cameras after their vote. They held up the documents and grinned.
Moore acknowledged that the journey was long and, at times, difficult.
Earlier this month, the governor and the Orioles were close to publicly announcing a deal, only to see it scuttled by concerns from Senate President Bill Ferguson over elements of the deal that would have given broad development rights to the Orioles on part of the stadium property. Significant changes were made to the deal before it was finally announced this past Thursday night.
Moore addressed those concerns and hinted that Ferguson wasn’t the only one who objected. As he thanked Ferguson, House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, Davis and Lierman — all Democrats — the governor said: “You all have been such strong partners and your push made the deal better. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.”
Lierman, speaking at the news conference, said her role as comptroller is to diligently protect public dollars.
“I am not here to be a rubber stamp for [Orioles chairman and CEO] John Angelos or Governor Moore,” said Lierman.
During the meeting, Lierman asked a number of clarifying questions about the lease to Craig Thompson, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority. She referenced a copy of the lease with key sections marked.
Davis said he almost didn’t make it to the news conference and meeting after waking up with a fever and feeling under the weather.
“You can’t take it for granted that this was going to get done or they didn’t have options,” Davis said, alluding to a proposal for Washington, D.C.’s Wizards and Capitals to move out of the capital and to Northern Virginia.
Oriole Senior Vice President Greg Bader told the members of the Board of Public Works that the team was satisfied with the deal.
“There is nowhere the Orioles would rather play championship baseball than here at Camden Yards,” he said.
Angelos, though a key player in the deal, was not present during the day of lease actions at the warehouse. The Orioles issued a statement, however, that quoted Angelos: “Our management group took the Orioles to the top of the league this season, and now, in partnership with Governor Moore and his Administration, they made this deal happen.”
The statement continued: “Most importantly, I’m happy we can deliver on our promise to fans of keeping the Orioles here for 30 more years, marking the 100th season of the team in Baltimore.”
Angelos has not appeared or spoken publicly about the lease negotiations since late September, when he was shown alongside Moore cheering at a game as the video board announced a deal to keep the team in Baltimore. That agreement, however, turned out only to be a nonbinding memorandum of understanding that outlined a potential deal. The terms have changed significantly since then.
The full lease has yet to be made public, but the architects of the deal and supporters said it keeps the team playing in Baltimore, opens the door to development to spur economic growth, and protects state jobs and taxpayer dollars.
There was a small moment of drama — and comedic relief — as the Board of Public Works prepared to take a vote. Lierman made the motion to approve the lease, and Moore asked for the motion to be seconded. Davis hesitated for a moment and said: “Well ....”
The room roared in laughter. “I can’t take those kinds of jokes right now,” Moore sputtered.
The vote, however, was a unanimous 3-0.
Earlier in the day, the Maryland Stadium Authority’s board of directors voted 8-0, with two members abstaining, to approve a deal to keep the Major League Baseball club at Oriole Park for a minimum of 15 years.
The stadium authority’s vote came without much public discussion. Board members opened their meeting, then immediately went into a closed session to talk with their attorneys for more than 30 minutes, before reconvening and holding the vote.
Board members did not discuss the details of the lease proposal and their public remarks were largely limited to expressions of gratitude for those who worked to make the deal happen.
During the meeting, board member Joe Bryce said it was important to protect the stadium, which is a state-owned asset.
“Unlike anyone else involved in the negotiations, the MSA board has a fiduciary responsibility to protect the assets of the state,” Bryce said. “And as the governor spoke of, many times, protecting that taxpayer asset, responsible use of state money, should be at the forefront of our arrangements with our partners, which is what the Orioles are.”
A complex agreement
The lease agreement is complex, and full details have not been released to the public. But a four-page summary posted online Friday outlines key elements of the deal.
The deal begins as a 30-year extension of the current lease, starting Jan. 1. The Orioles would continue to pay rent to the state following a formula that’s based on ticket sales and other revenue. The stadium authority would continue to be in charge of operations and maintenance of the stadium.
Then, over the next four years, the Orioles have the right to negotiate a ground lease on areas around the stadium for potential redevelopment. The area is believed to include the B&O Warehouse, the vacant Camden Station building and an adjacent parking area between the warehouse and train tracks.
The Orioles have until Dec. 31, 2027, to win approval for both a ground lease on the area and for specific development plans.
If the ground lease and redevelopment are not approved, the Orioles could continue with the remainder of the 30-year extension, or they could switch to a 15-year commitment.
In addition, the team could opt for up to four five-year extensions of the 30-year agreement — keeping the team at Camden Yards as long as 50 more years.
If the ground lease and redevelopment plan is approved, the Orioles could change the terms of their 30-year extension. Confusingly called a “facility use agreement” in state documents, this would involve the Orioles beginning to assume responsibility for routine operations and maintenance of the stadium. The jobs of Maryland Stadium Authority employees who currently do the work would be protected, officials said.
The savings from the state no longer having to pay for maintenance would be rolled into a safety and repair fund to pay for certain projects.
With the signing of the lease extension, the Orioles and the Maryland Stadium Authority can begin tapping into the $600 million worth of taxpayer-financed bonds that state lawmakers have authorized for major upgrades to the stadium. The Baltimore Ravens are covered by a similar agreement and already have started using bond money toward renovations at neighboring M&T Bank Stadium.
The Maryland Stadium Authority will control the projects and contracts carried out with the bond funding.
All the terms of the agreement would carry over to any future owners of the team, which is relevant amid rumors that there are suitors lining up to buy the team, including billionaire businessman David Rubenstein. Officials in Moore’s administration previously said Angelos told the governor the team is not for sale.
The agreement also continues to include language from the original 1992 lease that prevents the team from moving away from Baltimore.
‘Many eyes’ watching the deal
Meetings of the stadium authority and the Board of Public Works are typically dry affairs, with updates on projects and approvals of contracts with a core group of government officials and journalists watching.
Monday’s events, however, had more of a festive air. Several politicians showed up to the afternoon news conference and Board of Public Works votes — many of them with bits of orange in their ensembles and Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman wearing an Orioles City Connect jersey. There were Republicans and Democrats, representing the Baltimore area as well as the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland.
The Oriole Bird made its rounds and a placard was affixed to a lectern reading: “Baltimore is Home.” The “O” in “home” was the script orange Orioles “O.”
Among those observing were Baltimore residents and fans Andy Ellis and Bill Marker, who began advocating during the O’s season for the City of Baltimore to consider taking over the team by using a legal provision in the city’s charter.
Their hopes weren’t dashed by the newly signed lease; rather, they think the lease gives some breathing room for a better assessment of whether public ownership makes sense.
“The first day of the lease is a way better time to talk about public ownership than the last day of the lease,” Ellis said.
No one else mentioned public ownership, and Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott praised the agreement.
“Despite the hurdles and the many eyes focusing their attention on this deal, I knew that it would get done and that we would be here today,” Scott said.
Moore, for his part, seemed relieved to put this part of the deal behind him. He was asked by reporters if he would celebrate.
“Oh yes!” he exclaimed. “Going to Pickles!”