Less than three weeks from a looming deadline, Gov. Wes Moore (D) said Wednesday he is confident the state will reach a long-term lease agreement with the Baltimore Orioles.
“A deal is imminent,” Moore told reporters following a meeting of the Board of Public Works.
He repeated the message during a State House news conference later in the day.
The ball club’s lease with the state to remain at Orioles Park at Camden Yards, which the state owns, expires on Dec. 31, and Moore has repeatedly said he will not agree to anything less than a long-term agreement.
Negotiators from Moore’s administration and the Maryland Stadium Authority appeared to have reached an agreement with the team for a 30-year lease renewal late last week, but according to published reports, it fell apart at the last minute in part due to objections from Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) over granting the team a 99-year lease for development rights near the stadium. Ferguson’s district includes Camden Yards and the surrounding area.
Moore said his advisers have “been working all throughout the weekend and the week with all the partners and and we feel very confident that a deal is imminent.”
Any lease agreement, which first would have to be approved by the Maryland Stadium Authority, would then have to be ratified by the three-member Board of Public Works, which Moore chairs.
The governor repeatedly noted during Wednesday’s meeting that there were no more regularly scheduled BPW sessions in 2023 — a hint that an emergency meeting could come before the end of the year.
“We are going to make sure that this is a long-term deal,” he said after the meeting. “We’re not doing a one year, we’re not doing a short-term deal. We are going to make sure that we’re being good stewards of taxpayer dollars. And we have to make sure we’re creating winners not just on the field but also winners off the field.”
State Treasurer Dereck Davis (D), who also serves on the Board of Public Works, told reporters after Wednesday’s meeting that he’s also optimistic that a long-term deal will emerge despite the short timeframe.
“This isn’t surprising to me,” he said. “If you follow sports closely and even the political process with these deals, they’re always fluid. They’re on the brink of collapse, always. And then they come together at the end. I fully expect that something will come together real soon.”
Davis, who is the General Assembly’s representative to the Board of Public Works, said he shares Ferguson’s concerns about the proposed “ground lease” but is otherwise “fairly comfortable” with the likely provisions of the agreement with the team.
But the state’s negotiations with the Orioles appear to be taking on a new urgency — optically, at least — in the wake of the announcement Wednesday that the Washington Capitals and the Washington Wizards will be abandoning their arena in Washington, D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood in 2028 for a new $2 billion development along the Potomac River in Alexandria, Va.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) called the project “the most visionary sports and entertainment development in the world, bringing together entertainment, sports, and technology in the most advanced innovation corridor in the United States: a once-in-a-generation and historic development for the commonwealth, sports fans, and all Virginians.”
That deal, which still needs the approval of the Virginia General Assembly, has potential implications not just for Maryland’s desire to keep the Orioles at Camden Yards but for the state’s discussions about ensuring the Washington Commanders keep playing in Prince George’s County.
“We can see what’s happening in Washington, D.C., and how fickle sports teams can be,” Moore said during his news conference Wednesday.
In 2022, Maryland lawmakers increased the state’s bond authority for Camden Yards and for M&T Bank Stadium, next door, where the Baltimore Ravens play. That measure enables each team to spend an additional $600 million on stadium upgrades.
With no discussion Wednesday, the Board of Public Works approved a $72.5 million construction services contract for some of the authorized improvements at the football stadium.
During his afternoon news conference, Moore called himself a “deep fan” of the Orioles, and said the negotiations with the team are “personal” to him. But he also reiterated his insistence that any deal have economic benefit for the entire city and beyond.
“We have to make sure we properly invest in the city and region as a whole,” the governor said.
Exoneree gets $442,000 settlement
Beyond the comments about the progress of the state’s negotiations with the Orioles, the official Board of Public Works agenda was dispatched with in less than half an hour Wednesday morning. The highlights included the board awarding more than $442,000 to Grant Jones, who was imprisoned for almost five years for a crime in Wicomico County that he did not commit.
Jones was convicted in 1993 of attacking and raping a neighbor and spent half a decade in prison, all the while claiming his innocence. While he was paroled in 1998, Jones spent years trying to clear his name, and working with the Wicomico County State’s Attorney’s Office Prosecution Integrity Unit, convinced a judge to officially wipe his record clean and exonerate him.
Moore said the payment to Jones amounted to “a formal acknowledgement from the state that injustice has happened and we’re sorry.” The governor praised Jones’ strength and compassion and referenced the Book of Job, the Biblical story about a good man who retains his faith in God in harshly challenging circumstances.
“You have the strength of Job, my brother, and it’s an honor to be in your presence this morning,” Moore told Jones.
In addition to direct payments to Jones, the settlement includes a small sum for lawyers’ fees and an $89,100 payment to Jones to resolve all of his claims for state housing benefits.
Moore, who took office in mid-January, concluded the board meeting by reviewing the BPW’s work for the year — an unusual summary that his recent predecessors never made. Moore said that the board approved more than $8.8 billion in spending this year, including $6.5 billion in contracts, and said that this year, businesses owned by people of color and women were awarded a greater number of state contracts.
“This is what intentionality looks like,” Moore said. “This is what focus looks like. This is what will looks like.”
But it’s entirely possible, if the Board of Public Works convenes again this year to ratify a deal with the Orioles, that its most consequential work of 2023 is yet to come.
By Bryan P. Sears and Josh Kurtz