The Orioles will decline an option to extend their Camden Yards lease by five more years, planning instead to secure a longer-term, more comprehensive stadium agreement, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.
The lease expires at the end of 2023, and the baseball team expects to reach a new agreement by then with the Maryland Stadium Authority, sources told The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday. They are familiar with the thinking of negotiators, but requested anonymity because the decision had not yet been announced.
The bigger deal is expected to commit the team to Baltimore for many more years, as well as outline plans for upgrades to the state-owned ballpark. It also could include redevelopment projects at or near the site to boost the region’s economy.
The Orioles and Democratic Gov. Wes Moore issued a joint news release Wednesday evening expressing their “commitment to creating a long-term, multi-decade, public-private partnership that both develops and revitalizes the Camden Yards complex as a magnet for sports tourism and leverages Maryland taxpayers’ investment in the property.”
The news release did not mention the decision on the 5-year option.
The club and the state, said Orioles Chairman and CEO John Angelos in the release, have a “tremendous opportunity to redefine the paradigm of what a Major League Baseball venue represents and thereby revitalize downtown Baltimore,” while potentially serving “as a catalyst for Baltimore’s second renaissance.”
With the decision not to exercise the 5-year option, the club and stadium authorities are left with 11 months until an extension signed in February 2021 expires. That deal was made when the original lease, dating to 1992, neared its end.
Ideally, one of the sources told The Sun, the team would like a deal of at least 10 or 15 years in place by the All-Star break on July 11, despite the planned departure of one of the state’s chief negotiators.
But if talks stretch out, there is nothing to keep the parties from signing another extension of a year or two before the current agreement expires. Such a short extension would be preferable, both sources said, to the now-discarded 5-year option that, in effect, would have rolled over outdated provisions from more than 30 years ago.
Signing that extension might have eased any lingering concerns among fans, community leaders and surrounding businesses about the club relocating to another city. Angelos said he won’t move the team. But uncertainty about the lease and disclosures in his family’s internecine legal battle over his finances have meant his vows haven’t quieted all jitters.
But five years would not have been enough for the Orioles to fully capitalize on a new state law under which the stadium authority can borrow up to $1.2 billion to pay for stadium improvements — $600 million each for the Orioles and Ravens. The law specifies that a lease must be long enough to pay off the longest-term bonds, and five years was not enough for major stadium improvements.
The Orioles decided the best course for them was to continue the momentum established in the ongoing negotiations, one of the sources said, and see the Dec. 31 deadline as additional motivation to lock in a broad, long-term deal.
The club said previously that it wants to use an eventual long-term deal as a framework to create events beyond baseball that take place 300 days a year on the 60-acre stadium complex, instead of the 100 or fewer days it’s used currently. To do that, the franchise would work with public and private partners to try to maximize the commercial value of the property year-round, as has been done in other markets such as Atlanta, Dallas and Detroit.
In Atlanta, for example, the construction of the Braves’ ballpark, which opened in 2017, occurred as a huge, adjacent mixed-use development was built called The Battery Atlanta. It includes shops, restaurants and a music venue.
The Orioles previously indicated their intent to negotiate a long-term lease.
As to why they haven’t signed one yet, the parties have said the deal is complicated. Any future lease must cover a range of items such as revenue splits, security, the scope of renovations, and how the stadium is used for anything other than Orioles games.
“As a lifelong Baltimorean, I very much look forward to signing on behalf of the Club,” Angelos said in a Sept. 1 memorandum to front-office staff obtained by The Sun.
He said in the memo that the lease would be part of a broader “memorandum of understanding” underscoring the team’s “special relationship with the State of Maryland and the Greater Baltimore area.”
Looming over the lease discussions is the court struggle in which the Angelos family is feuding over much of the fortune of ailing patriarch and team owner Peter Angelos.
Louis Angelos, the owner’s youngest son, filed a suit in June against his brother, John, and mother, Georgia, over what he characterized as John’s attempt to take control and ownership of his father’s assets after the elder Angelos became incapacitated nearly five years ago.
Georgia Angelos responded with her own legal filing, saying her husband indicated the team “should be sold on his death so Georgia could enjoy the great wealth they had amassed together.”
But Georgia Angelos’ suit also said her husband believed any sale of the team should be her decision. Sources told The Sun in August that John Angelos, who is allied with his mother in the proceedings, would like the family to keep a majority stake in the team.
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The stadium authority has said that the legal tangle is not affecting lease negotiations.
Complicating matters, however, is the impending departure of stadium authority Chairman Thomas Kelso, an appointee of former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. Moore, the new Democratic governor, indicated last week that he will not reappoint Kelso, who has worked closely with the Orioles and Ravens since 2015.
The Moore administration said in a statement at the time that the stadium authority “has a long history of partnership and collaboration with the Orioles, and is going to continue carrying on that tradition.”
The NFL’s Ravens reached a new 15-year lease agreement with the stadium authority in January, despite having five years remaining on their previous one. Afterwards, the Ravens began to plan upgrades to M&T Bank Stadium.
The Orioles and the stadium authority have said it would be premature to specify what renovations they’re considering at Camden Yards, which seats about 46,000. Many newer stadiums are smaller and include open concourses with field views and stadium clubs for VIPs that offer prime low-level views.
Under the terms of the current lease, the Orioles pay the stadium authority varying percentages of ticket sales, stadium advertising revenues, parking revenues, concessions sales, and suite and club-level revenues. The lease makes the authority responsible for maintenance and repairs, while the team provides ushers, ticket-takers and other game-day staff.
Any agreement the Orioles and the stadium authority reach on a lease also needs to be approved by the Maryland Board of Public Works, which consists of Moore, Democratic Comptroller Brooke Lierman and Democratic State Treasurer Dereck Davis.