So what's with Drayton McLane? Is he serious about trying to work something out, or is he continually raising the hurdle as an excuse to unload the Astros? Let's see: Drayton doesn't think the public should be able to vote on a new baseball stadium, but even if he did, he really can't afford to wait on a November referendum planned by the county. And Drayton won't stand for stadium revenues to be siphoned from his pockets to pay for its construction, but that's something County Judge Robert Eckels says will be necessary. Then again, maybe Drayton thinks Eckels should just sacrifice his political career by imposing a tax increase for a new ballpark without giving voters a chance to approve it. Of course, it may not matter in the end, since Drayton has repeatedly insisted that fans buy a record 2.5 million seats by season's end if he's to keep the Astros in town, and that figure looks virtually impossible to reach.
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By the end of the month, Eckels will unveil a financing package for a $450 million ballpark and Astrodome renovation, which he believes he can place before voters in November. Though Eckels and McLane met last week to begin discussions, they're far apart on key issues. Eckels, for instance, says he wants to negotiate without the threat of McLane's selling the team hanging over his head. But Astros vice president Bob McClaren says that, come the end of the month, McLane's previous promise to put the team on the block holds. "That is the intention," says McClaren, "but that does not preclude us from continuing negotiations locally." Even though Eckels has been moving at what seems like warp speed to assemble a stadium package before McLane's August 1 deadline, McClaren says he can hardly detect any movement. "We've made no progress whatsoever in formalizing some sort of plan to address this," he says. But despite McLane's seeming hard line, McClaren allows that the owner is actually quite flexible and says it isn't out of the question that he would be willing to wait on negotiating a sale until after an election. "Is November too late?" asks McClaren. "It is not too late, I would think, if we're able to come up with a suitable economic plan that makes sense for us and the county, and allows us the funds that are necessary to have a competitive team. It's unfortunate, but that's just the way competitive sports have evolved.