Before Orioles chairman and CEO John Angelos signs a new lease at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, he wants more, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the discussions.
What does he want? The use of public land for renovations and new development around the stadium — potentially on existing parking lots — that he would benefit from, according to the sources. That request has held up negotiations, with a Dec. 31 deadline looming.
Angelos isn’t going to get his wish for development on the parking lots, nor will he receive an extra $300 million that he’s asking for from the state, according to another source who also has knowledge of the lease negotiations but requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
Angelos, who declined to comment through a spokesperson, has not presented a detailed plan for this vision but previously touted The Battery, a mixed-use development near Truist Park in Atlanta that he toured with Gov. Wes Moore in March, as a model. The Battery includes Live! At The Battery, one of several entertainment destinations developed by the Cordish Cos., a Baltimore-based firm run by CEO and chairman David Cordish.
Cordish, who includes in his portfolio several sports entertainment destinations such as Ballpark Village in St. Louis and Texas Live! in Arlington, did not respond to a request for comment this week from The Baltimore Banner.
Complicating Angelos’ plan is a clause in the Maryland Stadium Authority’s lease with the Baltimore Ravens requiring “parity” with the Orioles. The parity clause requires the stadium authority to modify its agreement with the Ravens to comparable terms if it negotiates with the Orioles “more favorable terms than those provided to the [Ravens].”
The Ravens signed a new 15- to 25-year lease with the stadium authority in January. The Orioles have not contacted the Ravens about developing land at the complex, according to a source with knowledge of the Ravens’ discussions who was not authorized to speak publicly about them.
A further limitation to Angelos’ plan is baked into the Ravens’ lease and assures the organization that there will be 4,000 available parking spaces around M&T Bank Stadium. And those 4,000 parking spaces must be surface lots — not underground or garage spaces — to allow fans to tailgate before games.
What land does that leave, then, to execute Angelos’ vision? The state owns the parking lots to the east of Russell Street, and the teams receive the revenue generated by parking. Before opening up the use of any land, the Maryland Stadium Authority would need to run a procurement process, possibly allowing for bids from other developers aside from those preferred by Angelos.
It’s also not clear how the state and city would benefit. Moore, speaking to reporters Monday at a news event, said he’s optimistic about the state of Orioles lease negotiations, but also wanted a fair deal for the state.
“There is a core belief that this is about what we need to do to create a winner on the field, but also I’m committed to making sure that this is a win for Baltimore, and that this is a win for the state of Maryland,” he said. “We have a shared vision to be able to build a new journey and a new era where having the Orioles and the Ravens and all the other activities you can have in Baltimore ... [happen] simultaneously. And we’re all going to win.”
Through a spokesman, the governor declined to comment further Thursday night.
Angelos, according to sources, is reluctant to pay to acquire land. While the Braves opted to move outside of downtown Atlanta, purchase 82 acres and pay $452 million to build The Battery, Angelos is pushing state officials to promise him space that he could use for offices, housing, bars and restaurants that he would benefit from.
Angelos and the Orioles’ stance — revealed during a February stadium authority meeting to discuss revitalizing the downtown corridor — represents a departure from the original scope of the state’s plan to publicly subsidize renovations at Camden Yards.
This week, some Marylanders caught a glimpse of Angelos’ possible plans with the circulation of a public opinion poll seeking to gauge how people felt about the Orioles complementing hundreds of millions of dollars in state-issued, tax-exempt bonds with an additional investment into a “public-private partnership.” According to the poll, that theoretical investment has been dubbed “Camden Crossing,” the name of an existing townhouse community near the stadium complex. It remains unclear who commissioned the poll.
Since the arrival of Moore and new Maryland Stadium Authority chairman Craig Thompson, the discussions over a new lease have taken on a wider scope to include the potential development plan, a source familiar with the deliberations said, making them more akin to a community revitalization project than solely a stadium lease. As a result, the talks are far more complex — and have taken longer.
A former state government official who worked in Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration — and who was familiar with, but not directly involved in, the negotiations — said state leaders initially hoped to sign new leases with the Orioles and the Ravens at the same time. The official said the Ravens deal took a more narrow focus while the Orioles set their sights on something “more broad.”
Discussions over more land thrown into the Orioles deal were not entirely new and date back a few years, the official said. But the official recalled the Hogan administration questioning whether the stadium authority would have had the ability to approve such an ask.
Another complicating factor, the official said, was when Angelos retained Goldman Sachs to evaluate a potential sale of the team or potentially to raise capital. The bank’s involvement was revealed during public arguments among John Angelos, his mother, Georgia, and his brother, Louis, over control of their ailing father and husband Peter’s estate. The Hogan administration saw that as a “red flag” because it signaled the Angelos family may be looking to sell the team and complicated the parameters of the negotiation, the official said.
Negotiating with the Orioles organization was “like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall,” the official said. The person was baffled by Angelos’ Jan. 31 letter to Moore in which Angelos told the governor he was pausing negotiations until Moore took office.
”There really weren’t any serious negotiations for Angelos to pause,” the official said. “He never really came to the table in a serious way. There was never a term sheet. There was never a deal on the table.
“We obviously wanted to reach an agreement as we were doing with the Ravens, but it just never got serious. And I don’t know if that was him trying to run the clock out for the new governor and hope for something better,” the official said.
Angelos, who donated $6,000, the maximum for an individual to give to the governor’s 2022 campaign, appeared as a character in Moore’s book “Five Days: The Fiery Reckoning of an American City,” which published in 2020. In addition to visiting Atlanta together in March, Moore and Angelos had at least three other meetings or phone calls scheduled from February to May, according to calendar records from Moore’s office obtained by The Banner in a public records request.
A source speculated about why Angelos wanted to deal with Moore. “At some point John thought he would get a better deal from Wes Moore, who’s his friend, than from the Maryland legislature and the governor [Hogan] that passed and signed that bill [House Bill 896],” they said.
House Bill 896, signed into law in April 2022 under Hogan, allotted $600 million in tax-exempt bonds each to the Orioles and the Ravens for stadium improvements, to be made available once they signed a new long-term lease. The bill increased the cap of taxable or tax-exempt bonds that the authority can issue for the two sports facilities to $1.2 billion, an increase from a previous cap of $235 million. Each organization can use up to $600 million after negotiating a lease. To service the debt, the bill also raised the maximum amount allocated from lottery proceeds from $20 million to $90 million a year.
Even after a lease agreement for Oriole Park is finalized, Orioles executives will need to present a spending plan to the Maryland Stadium Authority and the Board of Public Works for approval, Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson said.
Although Ferguson said he’s confident the Orioles can move forward with a long-term deal just as the Ravens did, the Baltimore City Democrat said he sees conversations around revitalization and developing an entertainment corridor “distinct from a long-term lease agreement.” His district includes the Orioles and Ravens stadiums.
Ferguson said he has “a great deal of faith and confidence in the stadium authority, and particularly the chair, Craig Thompson, to negotiate what’s in the best interest of the state’s assets here and the people of Maryland. I have a great deal of confidence that he will get us to a good resolution and the Orioles will stay in Baltimore for the foreseeable future.”
The 2022 bill received support from Orioles representatives, including Greg Bader, the club’s senior vice president of administration and experience, at the time.
Bader, speaking on behalf of “the entire Orioles organization” during a 2022 committee hearing about the bill, said the organization was “fully supportive” of the effort. “We deeply value our ongoing partnership with the MSA and look forward to keeping that partnership going for many years to come,” Bader said during testimony.
Later that year, Angelos told the stadium authority the Orioles were preparing a term sheet. When one didn’t arrive to the stadium authority in a week, Mike Frenz, the executive vice president of the MSA, reached out to the Orioles again, the source said. That time, Bader said a term sheet would arrive the next week.
A term sheet from the Orioles never arrived, the source said.
Angelos’ efforts to expand the lease to include development began more formally during a meeting facilitated by the Maryland Stadium Authority on Feb. 1, less than a month after Moore’s inauguration — on the same day the Orioles opted not to extend their current lease by five years. It included representatives from the Orioles and Ravens, as well as the developers of the ongoing Warner Street corridor, the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore and the Greater Baltimore Committee.
But Angelos did not attend that meeting, a source said. Bader attended instead.
Baltimore Banner reporter Jonas Shaffer contributed to this article.