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Expansion plans set to expand

Baseball owners are expected to emerge from their spring quarterly meeting Wednesday with a new expansion committee in place.

Leaders of the Tampa Bay and Phoenix baseball efforts say they are eagerly anticipating the news and consider it the first official step toward baseball adding two teams.

"It's expected that the committee will be named," said Jerry Colangelo, the NBA Phoenix Suns owner who is heading the baseball effort. "We've been told what will take place but it is up to the owners to make any announcement."

St. Petersburg city administrator Rick Dodge said: "We've heard a lot of that talk, and all the signs appear very positive. We're going to have to wait and see."

Owners have been reluctant to discuss the possibility of a committee. Several contacted Monday said they did not know how far expansion plans would go. Few details are available, but the committee is expected to include New York Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner (a Tampa resident), Chicago White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and Boston Red Sox chairman John Harrington.

Both Dodge and Colangelo say the formation of the committee is a positive development. "It fits the sequence of events we have been operating under for nearly a year," Dodge said. "It is the first part of a formal process of the next expansion of major-league baseball."

Colangelo in recent months has formed an ownership group and championed legislation to pay for construction of a stadium through an increase in the sales tax.

The tax will not be imposed _ and thus construction will not begin _ until Phoenix is awarded a franchise. Because the design and construction of the stadium is expected to take three years, and because the funding is contingent on a team being awarded within 13 months, Colangelo is eager for developments.

"We need to get on with it," Colangelo said. "Knowing there is a process involved, if a committee is named, it is a very positive sign that things have begun."

Colangelo has been in touch with Tampa Bay group leader Vince Naimoli and said the cities are united in this effort. "I really do feel St. Pete and Phoenix are married together in this expansion because there will be two teams," he said.