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Prospect of Vegas luring Expos improving

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April 01, 2004


Prospect of Vegas luring Expos improving


Major League Baseball eyes move, possible stadium site


By Rob Miech




An out-of-town group is working seriously behind the scenes to buy the Montreal Expos and move them to Las Vegas.


Major League Baseball is weighing that effort just as seriously.


All of the parties involved have called the several meetings that have been held as informal and preliminary, but productive.


"They are exploring," an insider said. "To say they aren't, or haven't been, is inaccurate. It's being kept very quiet."


Another figure in the Las Vegas negotiations said, "This is getting very realistic."


The Sun has learned:





Investors Robert Blumenfeld of New York and Peter Hueser of the Chicago area, and Bob Scanlan of Portland, Ore., formed Las Vegas Stadium Co. LLC, (LVSC) in December to explore the purchase and transfer of the Expos to Las Vegas.





Illinois entrepreneur Lou Weisbach formed a group called Teamscape, to buy the Expos and relocate them to Las Vegas, about 18 months ago. He brought Blumenfeld into the fold, and Blumenfeld has since become the point man in the project.





Caesars Entertainment Inc. has begun planning to build a $400 million, retractable-roof stadium on land behind its Paris Las Vegas and Bally's properties. Because Major League Baseball restricts its owners from having any links to the gaming industry, Caesars would act only as a building landlord, not an owner of the team.





Kansas City, Mo.-based HOK Sport has been retained by a consultant to potentially build a 40,000-seat baseball stadium, which would also be used for concerts and other entertainment.





Members of MLB's relocation committee have visited Las Vegas at least four times. Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox, has surveyed the Paris/Bally's site.





Gambling in Las Vegas, once thought to be an insurmountable obstacle to bringing a major-league sports franchise to the city, might not be such a huge hurdle after all.


At stake is the future of a franchise born in 1969 as MLB's first venture into Canada. Despite some success on the field, the Expos failed to elbow their way into Montreal's hockey-mad sports consciousness.


Attendance dwindled to record-low levels. Eventually, MLB had to take over ownership of the franchise, paying Jeffrey Loria $120 million so that he could flee Montreal and purchase the Florida Marlins.


Once MLB took control of the team, the search began to find a new home for the Expos.


Three weeks ago baseball Commissioner Bud Selig told the MLB Web site that the nine-member relocation committee "has been exploring Las Vegas as a possibility."


Terry Jicinsky, a senior vice president in charge of marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), said he has participated in meetings in which the Expos and Las Vegas have been discussed.


"Not where this has been the sole item of discussion, but there have been various meetings and updates," Jicinsky said. "It's been very premature and exploratory, but there's the potential for it to become one of the things we use as a marketing tool."


That few details have been publicized about sensitive discussions, chronologies of events and other details, according to some familiar with the under-the-radar nature of those talks, has impressed MLB.


Blumenfeld and Scanlan both have refused interview requests.


Scanlan is the president of Scanlan Kemper Bard Companies, a private investment and development concern based in Portland that most recently made headlines by buying a 300,000-square-foot Colorado shopping mall a few weeks ago for $29 million.


Blumenfeld, whose headquarters is in Manhattan, is a partner in the Blumenfeld Hueser Group.


Someone answered Blumenfeld's cell phone Tuesday and abruptly hung up on a Sun reporter. Blumenfeld is known as an erudite, low-key, Oxford-educated capitalist who fiercely protects his privacy.


Blumenfeld's partner, Peter Hueser, said he could not talk when reached at his office in Oak Brook, Ill., a Chicago suburb.


Weisbach is the chairman of the board, president and chief executive officer of HA-LO Industries Inc., a top promotional products distributor that is based in Niles, Ill., also a Chicago suburb.


He started his company by selling T-shirts from the trunk of his car, and he is known as a major Democratic fund-raiser. He got Chicago Cubs broadcaster Steve Stone to join Teamscape, a savvy move because of Stone's many contacts in baseball.


Weisbach could not be reached for comment.


A source said the relationship between Teamscape and Las Vegas Stadium Co. is "ill-defined," that they aren't exactly partners but that they are working in tandem for a common goal.


"It takes a lot of people to go out there and get the equity that will be needed for this," the source said. "Obviously, we're talking about a lot of money, and having two groups to attract those resources is a good thing."


Even Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who has been an outspoken advocate for his city to land one of the four major sports, has considerably toned down his volume.


Goodman has talked publicly about what he has perceived as Las Vegas' high standing with MLB's nine-member relocation committee, drawing criticism in baseball's Park Avenue executive offices in New York.


Neither Goodman nor a spokeswoman from his office would grant an interview request by the Sun.


Don Logan, president and general manager of the Las Vegas 51s, the Los Angeles Dodgers' Triple-A affiliate, said the city deserves a serious look by MLB because of its rapid growth.


"I think Vegas certainly warrants an examination, beyond Oscar banging the drum so loudly for the last few years," Logan said. "It is one of the fastest-growing areas in the country and it doesn't have any major-league sports."


The LVCVA estimates that approximately 36 million people will visit the city, whose population is 1.6 million, in 2004.


Clark County's Department of Comprehensive Planning said it expects the city's population to hit about 2 million by 2010.


That's small-market status comparable to Milwaukee, with the attraction being the weekly influx of hundreds of thousands of visitors.


Baseball had hoped to establish a new home for the Expos, who have drawn the worst attendance in the game for years, by last summer's All-Star break.


That deadline evaporated without a conclusion when organizing groups in Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia and Portland failed to impress the relocation committee with flimsy stadium financing and/or site selection plans.


Constant headlines may have hurt, too.


"More showy markets seeking the Expos," said one insider, "have done themselves a disservice pressuring baseball through publicity."


Those three areas are still in the game, but their errors have allowed Monterrey, Mexico; Hampton Roads, Va.; San Juan, Puerto Rico; San Antonio and Las Vegas to enter the fray for the beleaguered franchise.


Scanlan was not involved in Portland's attempts to attract the Expos.


A few weeks ago Massachusetts real estate developer John Alevizos announced his intention to purchase the team and move it to Connecticut, but it isn't clear if MLB has taken his plan seriously.


MLB president and chief operating officer Robert DuPuy, who is on the relocation committee, has said that group will ponder the details of each candidate city's proposal through April.


Selig expects to receive a recommendation from the committee by May 1, to be revealed during the All-Star break in Houston in mid-July.


However, John McHale Jr., an MLB vice president in charge of administration and a relocation committee member, expressed doubt last week to the Washington Post that the All-Star decision deadline would be met.


Reinsdorf's secretary at his Chicago office said he would not publicly comment on the relocation process, referring all interview requests to DuPuy. DuPuy has not returned calls seeking comment.


Meanwhile, Teamscape and LVSC have retained Mike Shapiro, a consultant for the San Francisco Bay Area-based Centerfield Management Group, to act on their behalf with MLB and Caesars.


Shapiro counts several high-ranking MLB officials, like Selig's special relocation envoy Corey Bush, as confidants, and those relationships could facilitate negotiations for LVSC.


Shapiro confirmed HOK's involvement in the Paris/Bally's site. HOK has been responsible for baseball's retro stadium wave over the past 12 years, beginning with Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore.


The company became well known for combining the nostalgic atmosphere of traditional parks with modern amenities.


Coors Field in Denver, Jacobs Field in Cleveland, Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Comerica Park in Detroit, PETCO Park in San Diego and Minute Maid Park in Houston are all HOK creations.


Two HOK architects referred interview requests to Shapiro.


Shapiro said that, at this preliminary stage, HOK has been limited to conducting analyses at the Paris/Bally's site. Blueprints are still blank, as there are numerous goals left to achieve, "... not the least of which," Shapiro said, "is to convince Major League Baseball to go there."


Shapiro arrived in Las Vegas last Friday, met with representatives from local public relations firm Brown & Partners for the first time and celebrated his 53rd birthday at Mandalay Bay over the weekend.


"It's a little preliminary, at this point," said a Brown & Partners official, "for us to say anything."


Paul Davis, a lead architect for NBBJ Sports & Entertainment, said two years is the minimum requirement to build a stadium with a retractable roof. NBBJ, based in Marina del Rey, Calif., designed Safeco Field in Seattle and Miller Park in Milwaukee, both of which are baseball-specific stadiums with retractable roofs.


In fact, Davis said, three years is the optimum timetable for such a project. MLB executives are aware of those time frames, an insider said, and can wait for the Expos to be settled into their new home until 2007.


In the Washington-Northern Virginia areas, RFK Stadium could serve as a temporary facility until a new stadium is constructed. While those factions battle each other in wooing MLB, Peter Angelos waits.


Angelos, the Baltimore Orioles' managing general partner and a lawyer with a very successful history, has threatened legal action for territory infringement.


Bush, a former San Francisco Giants executive under whom Shapiro once worked, meets and talks with Shapiro on a regular basis.


Well respected in MLB circles, Bush recently displayed his versatility when he served as Frank McCourt's point man in his purchase of the Dodgers.


The Expos have been owned and operated by a limited partnership of baseball's 29 other franchises since they purchased the team from Loria before the 2002 season.


This season, as they did in 2003, the Expos will play about a quarter of their 81 home games in San Juan. They will fetch market value when MLB sells them.


Should the Expos move to Las Vegas, Logan said the 51s would be owed in excess of $10 million for territorial rights that the Triple-A franchise has enjoyed for more than 20 years.


He had been toiling, through political channels, for a new stadium in Henderson to replace the aging Cashman Field. But movement has been stalled as the smoke clears on the Expos' situation.


Logan said continued market growth for five to 10 years, a more diverse economy and a solid corporate base, to purchase luxury suites and season tickets, would be needed for MLB success in Las Vegas.


Gambling undoubtedly would be addressed by MLB.


"I think that phobia has been allayed somewhat," Logan said. "You're talking about the basis of that concern, from a baseball standpoint, being the 1919 Black Sox scandal. That's almost a century ago.


"It's certainly more controlled than it's ever been. No place polices gaming better than Nevada, and particularly Las Vegas. ... There's a much better understanding that it's a legitimate, controlled industry."


Jay Kornegay, the director of the Imperial Palace race and sports book, likened his industry making concessions to MLB to the time when he and his peers in the city did not post lines, or odds, on UNLV basketball and football games.


"We were called a bunch of hypocrites," he said. "And we said, 'You guys are right.' That was outdated. We've put UNLV on (the board) for the last three years, and it's no different than any other game."


Kornegay reiterated that no concessions would be made, that he would invite MLB officials on a tour of the grounds to educate them on how well the books are regulated and policed.


"I think they'd understand what goes on better," he said. "It's not a bunch of guys in the back room smoking cigars. I think we could change the way some (MLB) officials think if we educate them.


"And I'd love to see a team here."



Imagine this scenario: The "great" markets of L.V. and Norfolk battle it out while the "insignificant" markets of Washington D.C. and Portland are left behind again. No wonder MLS has lost respect.

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Vegas ain't small....DC has failed twice already...How many chances do you think they'll get?

Vegas is a small market team, or at least no bigger than say St. Louis or Denver. Population wise, it's pretty small. And who else played in DC besides the Senators? And they moved just cause it was the thing to do. DC has a football, basketball and hockey club....I'm pretty sure they can sustain a baseball club.

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Pacific Coast League takes over operation of the Portland Beavers

By ANNE M. PETERSON, AP Sports Writer

April 2, 2004


PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- The Pacific Coast League has taken over management and operation of the Portland Beavers, saving the Triple-A team's season at PGE Park.


Just a week ago it was feared that the Beavers might not play their home opener at the downtown ballpark because the city said it had no agreement to run the building.


PCL president Branch B. Rickey announced Friday that it had reached an agreement with Portland Family Entertainment, the financially troubled owner of the team, and its lender, the Teacher's Insurance Annuity Association, to assume control of the Beavers.


The agreement insures that the Beavers, the Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres, will play their home opener on April 16.


Rickey said there are no plans for drastic cuts in the operation of the team now that the league is overseeing its finances.


``We're going ahead as a full-fledged, top-line Triple-A organization,'' he said.


At a news conference outside of the ballpark, Rickey said the league will continue efforts to secure a permanent owner, but this was the best solution for the short-term.


``Any business transfer requires a certain amount of due diligence,'' Rickey said about the future sale of the club. ``And due diligence takes time.''


PGE Park was being operated by the city on a temporary basis after Portland Family Entertainment fell far behind on payments to its lender.

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Actually Washington lost the Senators the first time because their owner, Clark Griffith, was a racist and refused to build the new DC stadium in Southeast DC, the blackest and poorest area of town. That he owned the falling apartGriffith Stadium and had to pay rent and share concessions at the new park didn't fancy him either. When the AL replaced the franchise inept ownership gutted the team and its minor league system. When a new owner came in the late 60s he was interested only in money. He raised ticket prices, concessions to incredible amounts and then moved the team when Dallas offered him a better share of the ballpark revenues. Actually the second version of the Senators had a better attendance than the Texas Rangers of '72 and '73, so Washington didn't exactly fail the franchise. The owners were not interested in baseball and/or the city.


Now if we were talking about rotating the Expos around to see who would do well, I'd insist that Las Vegas is no worse than Portland or Norfolk. But MLB shouldn't be interested in short-term solutions. They should look for who has the best future. Washington, DC already has the population, disposable income, interest and broadcast market of a major league baseball town and has continually grown in reent years. It is also a safe bet to continue its growth until the government moves.

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I appreciate your arguments, but I don't think Vegas is a short term solution based on the growth rate of the city. It all depends on who can get a ballpark built first, as South Florida has proven unfortunately. Is there anything going on in DC on the ballpark front? I heard that Virginia is out of the picture, which is fine...I never cared for that location anyway...

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Now if we were talking about rotating the Expos around to see who would do well, I'd insist that Las Vegas is no worse than Portland or Norfolk. But MLB shouldn't be interested in short-term solutions. They should look for who has the best future. Washington, DC already has the population, disposable income, interest and broadcast market of a major league baseball town and has continually grown in reent years. It is also a safe bet to continue its growth until the government moves.

Great argument. DC would be great. And in the game last night, that ESPN chick interviewed Selig and he made no mention of Vegas when talking about possible sites.

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Is there anything going on in DC on the ballpark front? I heard that Virginia is out of the picture, which is fine...I never cared for that location anyway...

Well, RFK is a suitable ballpark. DC refuses to dedicate public funds until they get a promise from MLB a team is coming. Sorry, I mean when MLB follows up on its promise from 30 years ago, and 25 years ago, and 15 years ago, and 10 years ago, and 8 years ago, and 5 years ago...



Great argument. DC would be great. And in the game last night"]

His recent comments have been very disturbing. He never mentions Las Vegas or Monterrey, rearely mentions Portland but always seems to hint toward Virginia or Norfolk. The roads in Northern Virginia are terrible (mainly because the down-state politicians don't like to pay for Northern expenditures), and Norfolk-Hampton Roads arealaks the disposable income to make baseball work. It all sounds to be a BS compromise for Peter Angelos.

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