Ballpark financing issue may kill deal

NEW YORK -- Washington's new baseball team shut down business and promotional operations indefinitely Wednesday as its
move to the nation's capital teetered on the brink of collapse.

The decision by Major League Baseball followed the District of
Columbia Council's decision Tuesday night to require private
financing for at least half the cost of building a new stadium. The
September agreement to move the Montreal Expos to Washington called
for a ballpark fully financed by government money.

"Yes, I think baseball is now in jeopardy," Mayor Anthony A.
Williams said.

A previously scheduled news conference to unveil new uniforms
was called off and fans who bought tickets to watch the renamed
Nationals next season at RFK Stadium can get refunds, said Bob
DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer.

Baseball will not resume talks with other cities until after
Dec. 31, the deadline in the agreement for Washington to put a
ballpark financing law in place.

"In the meantime, the club's baseball operations will proceed,
but its business and promotional activities will cease until
further notice," DuPuy said.

He did not address where the team would play its 2005 home
schedule if the deal with Washington falls through. It remains
unclear whether baseball would move the franchise to RFK Stadium on
a temporary basis, remain at Montreal's Olympic Stadium or go to
another city.

Williams had signed the deal nearly three months ago, and
publicly celebrated the return of major league baseball to
Washington, which hasn't had a team since 1971.

"We had a deal. I believe the deal was broken, and the dream of
33 years is now once again close to dying. I would say close,"
Williams said at a news conference Wednesday.

Council Chair Linda W. Cropp proposed the amendment, which was
approved 10-3 after she threatened to withhold support from the
overall package, which then passed In a 7-6 vote.

"I am not trying to kill the deal," Cropp said. "I'm putting
some teeth in it because I'm really disappointed with what I got
from Major League Baseball."

The September agreement estimated the cost of building the
ballpark and refurbishing RFK Stadium at $435 million, but critics
claimed it would cost far more. The proposal, as initially approved
by the council on Nov. 30, called for Washington to issue up to
$531 million in bonds to cover the cost.

"I am very confident that we are going to be able to work
through this and that we will have baseball here," said Councilman
Jack Evans, who supported Williams on the original financing plan.

Bill Hall, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment
Commission's baseball committee, said, "We intend to deal with
MLB's concerns and stadium cost issues in a way that keeps baseball
in Washington, and do so over the next week or so."

Some of the communities that had lost out in the bidding for the
team prepared to resume their efforts to lure the franchise.

"I don't think we've ever stopped," Norfolk group head Will
Somerindyke Jr. said. "We always wanted to keep this area an
option. If the opportunity arises for the Expos again, we are going
to be standing there along with everyone else.

"Whether we could get something done by next year, I think
that's a stretch," he added. "It would be very, very tough."

Somerindyke's organization has returned the deposits it
collected on nearly 10,000 season tickets and almost 100 luxury
boxes during its drive to get the Expos. He didn't think it would
be difficult to get those deposits back.

Officials in Portland, Ore., were uncertain how to interpret the

"We need to wait to see how Major League Baseball assesses this
so we can respond," said Drew Mahalic of the Oregon Sports

Supporters of Oregon's campaign to land a major league team will
update outgoing Portland Mayor Vera Katz next Tuesday, during a
previously scheduled meeting concerning the city's efforts to
attract a team and stadium financing.

"Obviously this is moving pretty fast," said Scott Farris, a
spokesman for Katz. "We have not heard any word from major league
baseball that they are reopening the relocation process."

The city has a finance plan for a new ballpark, Farris said.
Baseball officials have said they want public financing for a new
stadium in place before deciding where to relocate the team.

Mahalic said Oregon's bid for a major league team has never
centered solely on the Expos. The Oregon Stadium Campaign has
worked to keep Portland's pitch for baseball alive, in hopes of
landing a team in the future.

"This is an ongoing pursuit," Mahalic said.

Northern Virginia's group had hoped to build a ballpark near
Dulles International Airport.

"We hope that the District of Columbia will be able to fulfill
the terms of its agreement and succeed in bringing Major League
Baseball back to this region," Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority
spokesman Brian Hannigan said.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman went to baseball's winter meetings
last weekend trying to attract attention to his efforts to lure a
team. But he could not offer a firm stadium plan.

"It's just a glint in my eye, at this point," he said.

Washington has lost teams twice before: The original Senators
became the Minnesota Twins after the 1960 season and the expansion
Senators transformed into the Texas Rangers following the 1971

"Here we are back where we were five years ago -- the nation's
capital, the center of the world, a city of possibility, aspiration
and ambition and opportunity, and a city that cannot do what it
says it's going to do," Williams said. "I'm saddened that we can
go so far in five years and step back so far in five minutes."

The Expos became the first major league team outside the United
States when they started play in 1969, but attendance at Olympic
Stadium slumped over the past decade and the franchise was bought
by the other 29 teams before the 2002 season. In 2003 and 2004,
some of the team's home games were moved to Puerto Rico to raise