Throughout the muddy process of keeping baseball in Baltimore, Gov. Wes Moore has offered one promise again and again: When it’s all said and done, we’re all going to win.
If everybody is going to win, why has everyone except Orioles owner John Angelos and his team seemingly been shut out of the process?
We’re a month and a half removed from the Orioles and the state announcing via scoreboard message that the team would remain in town 30 more years, then revealing that the “agreement” was a non-binding memorandum of understanding. We’re less than two months away from the Dec. 31 extension deadline.
Aside from a few outlines, the state and the Orioles haven’t presented much in the way of concrete plans. They also haven’t confirmed if they’ll do a short-term extension to get all the paperwork done for complicated allocations of public money and possibly development rights on publicly owned property.
When exactly are we supposed to pop the champagne again?
After speaking to members of the surrounding neighborhoods — the ones Moore has promised will benefit — The Banner reported this week that several key members of that community feel shut out. One of these residents, Betty Bland-Thomas, said: “Bring us to the table, let us know, let us tell you some of our ideas.”
That’s the problem.
Moore made a promise: “I’m committed to making sure that this is a win for Baltimore, and that this is a win for the state of Maryland.” But the bulk of the negotiations have happened well outside of the public eye, with the feeling of backroom handshakes and vague agreements that the two principals — Moore and Angelos — will work out later. Even on the memorandum of understanding, Maryland Stadium Authority board members called in a vote rather than holding it in a public meeting, as they do for most of their business.
By comparison, developer P. David Bramble solicited community feedback before introducing plans for a re-imagined Harborplace. He subsequently held a session to answer questions after revealing a robust and divisive redevelopment plan. That’s a $500-million, privately funded project, though Bramble is reportedly saying $400 million in public funds is needed for infrastructure improvements. The Camden Yards project revolves around a publicly owned baseball stadium and already involves $600 million in public money.
Why is one process so much more transparent than the other? Why has Moore been so vague about the ways in which taxpayers will benefit from a new lease that, so far, appears largely focused on giving Angelos a sweeter deal?
We can already see a lot of wins for Angelos and the Orioles. In addition to that $600 million bond that the Orioles can secure by actually signing a lease agreement, it seems the state will give up even more concessions: dropping rent, adding a $3.3 million annual budget for operations and maintenance, and allowing private development in exchange for a ground lease of $94 million over 99 years.
The few details to emerge from these negotiations have provoked more questions than answers: This list by The Banner’s Pamela Wood is still pretty much unresolved, including very fundamental things like how much public money is going to change hands, and if the Orioles and the state will need a short-term extension.
The lack of clarity on any of these issues didn’t stop the celebration back on Sept. 28. The image of Moore and Angelos celebrating in the owner’s suite might be their “Mission Accomplished” blunder — it certainly undersold the amount of work left to do. Given the amount of details left to hash out, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a short-term extension, which might confuse fans who got the impression that the deal was done in September.
State and team officials are still ironing it out, but Moore and Angelos — to borrow a sporting analogy from the neighboring stadium — spiked the football at the 20-yard line to capitalize on the excitement of the Orioles’ 101-win season. Now we’re on the precipice of heading into overtime, and there has been almost no update in the month and a half since: State and Orioles officials declined to offer timelines when The Banner’s Brenda Wintrode pressed for more details.
Negotiations with the Orioles and Maryland have reached a gut-check stage: Is Moore the state’s leader, or is he Angelos’ buddy? Moore hasn’t navigated the optics of this well, appearing a handful of times with the Orioles owner and spending an afternoon as Mr. Splash. Meanwhile, the public is wondering: What exactly is going on with the ballpark? Moore and Angelos strongly implied that they had worked it all out, when there hasn’t been any meaningful, legally binding resolution.
While Moore is spending all this time with Angelos, who is talking to the communities in Pigtown, Ridgely’s Delight and Otterbein? Who is talking to the business owners around the park, who will be undoubtedly affected by development, such as a hypothetical Live! complex closer to the stadium?
According to The Banner’s reporting, the state is falling short when it comes to transparency, or even soliciting ideas and feedback from people who have lived and worked near the ballpark. Local business owner Judith Neff told The Banner: “The more transparency with something like this, especially something that’s not 100% private funding, it just creates a win-win situation.”
The sheen of that September announcement has long since faded. We’re coming up on a deadline. No amount of fist-pumping will get the deal over the hump — just a lot of paperwork and talking to the public, who are funding the lion’s share of this entire enterprise.
Of course Moore has to find a deal by working with Angelos, but the lease discussions should filter through his other constituents as well. He didn’t promise a win for just the Orioles and their owner — he promised it for all of us.
So far, it’s not easy to tell what those wins might look like. We’re still in the dark.