Maryland treasurer puts pressure on Orioles lease negotiations: ‘There’s something that we’re not being told’

20 July 2023

As the Orioles march toward the end of their current lease at state-owned Camden Yards — but with promises to soon agree to a long-term one — Maryland’s treasurer is concerned there’s a holdup in negotiations and said the public is being kept in the dark.

Treasurer Dereck Davis said Wednesday the drawn-out negotiation, in which he is not directly involved, between the Maryland Stadium Authority and the team makes him believe “there’s something that we’re not being told.”

“It’s time to start putting timelines out there so we can get this damn thing done,” Davis said. “They owe it to the state, the taxpayers, and this foot-dragging has got to stop.”

The Orioles (58-37) are in the midst of a breakout season and have the best winning percentage in the American League, but remain without an agreement formally tethering them to Oriole Park at Camden Yards beyond Dec. 31. The club has operated under the same lease since the park opened in 1992 and it and the stadium authority, which built and owns Baltimore’s major professional sports venues, have been negotiating a new lease for years.

The initial 30-year term was supposed to end in 2021, but the two sides agreed at that time to extend it to 2023.

Five months ago, the stadium authority switched negotiators as Democrat Gov. Wes Moore took office and appointed Craig Thompson as the authority’s chair. Orioles chairman John Angelos, a friend of Moore’s, said then that he hoped a deal could get done by MLB’s All-Star break, which ended last week.

Davis’ recent comments came during a regular meeting of the Maryland Board of Public Works, a three-member spending panel that would have to vote to approve the lease agreement between the Orioles and the state before it was final.

He later told reporters he doesn’t want to be forced to vote on a contract at the last minute that has something “significant” that could be cause for concern, though he said he had “no idea” what that could be.

During the meeting, he said he believed Moore is working to get a deal done.

But he also said he wanted to put pressure on the administration, and he told reporters that Moore’s joint statement last week with Angelos was “90%” of the reason he decided to speak out. The statement, which came after the missed goal by Angelos to get the lease done by the All-Star break, did not mention the word “lease” nor include any specifics. It said progress was being made and that both sides were “determined to make it happen, and soon.”

Davis, who has previously been critical of the stadium authority’s dealings with Baltimore’s pro teams, stressed that although the negotiation is private, it concerns public dollars since the stadium authority will finance state-funded improvements to the ballpark once a long-term lease is signed.

“At a certain point, it certainly appears to me that they are at an impasse,” Davis said. “At the very least, let’s put a little sunshine on what’s going on.”

Moore, sitting next to Davis during the meeting, smirked as the treasurer spoke and then laughed afterward while some of the tension in the room died down. In a statement Wednesday, a spokesperson for Moore echoed the governor’s joint statement with Angelos and said that the governor and treasurer “have a shared goal of advancing an agreement with the Orioles that will benefit Baltimore and the entire state.”

“Governor Moore is committed to finalizing an agreement with the Baltimore Orioles and bringing it before the Board of Public Works for approval as quickly as possible,” Carter Elliott, Moore’s spokesperson, stated.

Stadium authority chair Thompson declined to comment Wednesday, referring to last week’s statement. The Orioles referred questions to a spokesperson for Angelos, who declined to comment.

Although Angelos has repeatedly said the Orioles will not move out of the city, a lease is critical because it would likely bind the club — officially — to Baltimore for decades. Additionally, a long-term agreement would unlock hundreds of millions in state money to improve Camden Yards.

Last year, the General Assembly passed a law permitting the stadium authority to borrow up to $600 million in bonds to upgrade both the Baltimore Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium and Oriole Park, for a total of $1.2 billion — provided the teams sign long-term leases. State lottery proceeds would then pay off the bonds.

During the final weeks of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration, the stadium authority — under the direction of former chair Thomas Kelso, a Hogan appointee — agreed to a new lease with the Ravens at an ad hoc meeting on Dec. 27. The next week, the Board of Public Works approved the lease, which extended the Ravens’ commitment to Baltimore from 2027 to 2037, with Hogan praising “months and months of incredible hard work that went into these discussions.”

In May, the spending board signed off on $450 million in improvements to the NFL stadium, which will begin to take shape next year and are expected to be completed by 2026.

Davis on Wednesday contrasted the Ravens’ lease deal with the ongoing negotiations with the Orioles: “It didn’t take that long for the Ravens.”

When the state and football team agreed to their deal, members of the Board of Public Works congratulated both parties. “One down, one more to go,” Davis said, referencing Baltimore’s two pro teams.

Six months later, that remains true.


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