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Dan Rodricks: Why do the Orioles and Ravens need $1.2 billion for stadium improvements?

On the first day of October, Matt Williams, co-founder and sales director of Mount Royal Soaps in Baltimore, asked me why the Ravens and Orioles needed $600 million each to improve the stadiums where the teams play. .

“What is wrong with the current state of the stadiums? Williams asked in an email. “I go to games at both stadiums all year and the experience is always amazing.”

The soap maker is right. I mean, $1.2 billion is a lot of green, and these public stadiums aren’t that old. Oriole Park opened in 1992, M&T Bank Stadium in 1998. I have cookie sheets older than that.

Obviously, maintaining sports stadiums used over the years by millions of football, baseball, soccer and rock fans can result in unpredictable expenses.

But $1.2 billion? How did the Maryland General Assembly, by authorizing the Maryland Stadium Authority to borrow this amount, arrive at this figure? And what will it be used for?

Some of this information has already leaked.

In January, The Sun’s Jeff Barker reported what the Ravens planned to do with some of their money: “Options being considered include new viewing and social spaces at field level, and excavation of a level of service under the stands so that it surrounds the stadium. instead of stopping halfway.

During spring training, the Sun’s Nathan Ruiz asked chairman and CEO John Angelos how the Orioles would spend their $600 million.

“I think there’s a lot of stuff behind the scenes, boilers and air conditioners and all kinds of stuff” that fans will never see, Angelos said. “You have to invest 100, 150, whatever it is, 200 million (dollars) in the physical plant of the Ravens and the Orioles to make it work.

“What do you do with the rest?” I mean the things you see around the league – the amenities, the upgraded seating areas…the audio-video systems. We’ve had two scoreboards, two audio-visual systems in the history of Camden Yards. The first one was made in 1992 or 1991 when the stadium opened… then it was replaced in 2008 or 2009. That was 15 years ago.

“Those kinds of things don’t really constitute major improvements. These are capital replenishments to bring things back up to standard. …That’s not really an option. I’d like to say leave things as they are, wouldn’t you? But eventually…the technology runs out, the parts disappear, and you have to do these things.

Angelos also mentioned what he called “nice to haves,” but added, “We’re not at that specific level.” »

Much of this still seemed unclear to me, and it didn’t seem like $1.2 billion.

So on October 8, I wrote to the MSA to ask how the legislature arrived at this figure.

It took almost a month to get an answer to a question that was thought the MSA would have readily available.

The answer wasn’t really one.

It was presented in a two-part email: a “statement” from MSA President Craig Thompson and “background” on the $1.2 billion.

The “background” side went after former MSA President Tom Kelso, who publicly criticized the authority’s negotiations with the Orioles, and former Gov. Larry Hogan.

The “background” section said of the $1.2 billion: “It is unclear how Mr. Kelso and Governor Hogan arrived at these exact figures, although Mr. Kelso indicated in his testimony before the Committee of House appropriations that the amount had been informed by which teams in similar markets – particularly in stadiums built after the construction of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The other part of the email, Thompson’s statement, was a defense of the state-Orioles deal touted very publicly by Gov. Wes Moore at Oriole Park on September 28. Which originally looked like a 30 year lease. The agreement turned out to be a non-binding memorandum of understanding.

“The MOU,” Thompson said, “goes way beyond baseball. This is responsible revitalization and a visionary investment in Maryland’s largest city. It’s about getting the best deal for Maryland taxpayers on pre-negotiated terms. And it’s about ensuring that a critical economic contributor to the city, state and region remains in Baltimore City.

Oh yes. This is the age-old justification for big government subsidies to wealthy sports franchises: if we don’t do it, they might leave us.

Next year, it will be 40 years since the Colts took off in the middle of the night for Indianapolis. Baltimore sports fans are often reminded of the possibility of being abandoned again.

Nobody thinks that about the Ravens; they signed a lease through 2037, with options to extend it through 2047. But concern about the Orioles leaving town still nibbles at the civic psyche, and it’s apparently influencing negotiations with the team — despite Angelos’ very public pledge to stay, despite Major League Baseball’s intention to expand to 32 teams and the MLB commissioner’s declaration that the Orioles will not leave Baltimore, making a relocation even more doubtful.

Still, the state has something to worry about: In addition to the $600 million, the memorandum of understanding proposes that the Orioles receive a “safety and repair fund” for approximate projects that could cost $99 million. additional dollars over 30 years.

No one asked me, but that seems like a lot of taxpayer money to prevent something that seems unlikely.

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