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Browns Abandon Cleveland : Pro football: Art Modell signs a 30-year lease with Baltimore and expects his fellow NFL owners to approve team's move.

November 07, 1995|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BALTIMORE — Led by a police escort, the black Cadillac arrived to applause and "We love you, man" signs Monday--an obvious contrast to the Mayflower vans that carried away the Colts in the dead of night 11 years ago--and delivered Art Modell and a signed lease for his Cleveland Browns to play here for the next 30 years.

In a parking lot a Babe Ruth home run away from Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the site of a $200-million, 70,000-seat state-of-the-art football stadium to open before the 1998 season, Modell announced his Browns would leave Cleveland at the end of the season and begin play in Memorial Stadium in 1996.

"It's been a very, very tough road for my family and for me; I leave Cleveland, Ohio [after] 35 years and leave a good part of my heart and soul there," Modell said after being greeted by chants of "Art, Art, Art."

"But frankly, it came down to a simple proposition: I had no choice."

Baltimore lured the Browns without mortgaging the city as St. Louis did for the Rams. Unlike Ram owner Georgia Frontiere, who was guaranteed $75 million to pay for all expenses, including operating losses from the previous season, Modell is guaranteed nothing but the construction of a new open-air, natural grass stadium that will include 108 luxury suites and 7,500 club seats.

The Maryland legislature approved funds to build a new stadium a decade ago through money raised in four yearly sports lotteries. Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, however, had informed the NFL earlier this year that those funds would no longer be available at the end of this year unless a team signed an agreement to come here.

The Maryland Sports Authority will sell up to $75 million in personal seat licenses to raise funds to pay for the Browns' moving expenses and the construction of new practice facility. Any money raised beyond the Browns' expenses will go back to the Maryland Sports Authority. If sales efforts fall short, it becomes the Browns' problem.

The Browns will cash in on all concession, parking and advertising revenue in the new stadium, as well as all money raised in ticket sales. The team will pay no rent but will be responsible for $3 to $4 million a year in maintenance and operating costs.

League officials expect the Browns to earn more than $20 million in profit per season once they move in to the new stadium to be built on 12 acres south of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Browns did not get the right to sell the stadium name, however, as the Rams did in St. Louis to TWA.

Modell declined to specifically discuss his transaction with Baltimore, but he was obviously intent on beating others to Baltimore while still making the deal before leaders pulled stadium funds off the table.

An agreement on a 30-year lease was reached and signed at an Oct. 27 meeting, one day before Cleveland lost the World Series in six games to Atlanta. Glendening, accompanied by John Moag, chairman of the Maryland Sports Authority, met secretly with Modell and Browns' minority investor Alfred Lerner on Lerner's private jet on a remote runway at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Both parties agreed to keep the deal confidential until Dec. 18, one day after the Browns' final home game this season. But when news began to leak, it was decided to go public.

The move still requires approval from 23 of the NFL's 30 owners but will probably not come up for a vote until mid-January or the league's annual meetings in March. Like the Rams, the Browns will probably not meet the criteria to move. But once the Rams agreed to a $29-million relocation fee, the league guidelines were ignored.

"I'm not worried about the league," Modell said. "The league will take care of itself."

The Browns, unlike the Rams and Raiders, cannot complain about a lack of support. They have averaged more than 69,000 fans in Cleveland Stadium the past five years while compiling a 38-51 record in that time, but local governments worked to build new facilities for Cleveland's professional baseball and basketball teams while promising the Browns only a renovated stadium.

Voters in Cuyahoga County will vote today on a referendum to provide a portion of funds for a $170 million Cleveland Stadium renovation, but Modell said Monday, "It's irrelevant."

Modell never publicly asked for a new stadium in Cleveland, and before this season began, he wrote to the mayor of Cleveland and asked that all talks about a renovated stadium cease so as to not disrupt the team.

"We have reason to question whether there has been duplicity in his communication with us and we clearly wonder whether there has been a concerted effort to use the people of Cleveland as a doormat to cut a better deal with the people of Baltimore," said Cleveland Mayor Michael White.

"Now we wonder, did he ask for the moratorium in order to negotiate a $50-million payday that would be announced at the end of the season, thereby permanently crippling our ability to respond?"

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