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Construction of Malden ballpark stalls

Lease negotiations to build a $50 million minor league baseball park on a former National Grid gas distribution site on Commercial Street in Malden have taken longer than expected, and will probably delay Opening Day to April 2015, one year later than originally planned, the developer said.

“We had a challenging timetable anyhow, but things have gone slower than we would have wanted,” said Alex Bok, chief executive officer of Boston Baseball Field of Dreams LLC, the development group proposing to build the ballpark. “We’re working our way through many issues — rent, credit, environmental.”

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Malden Park, a 6,372-seat stadium, would host a team from the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball. Bok had originally hoped to open the park in April 2014.

But before Bok can apply for a franchise, he must secure a lease for the 6.4-acre National Grid site, plus 2.7 acres occupied by adjacent private businesses. “We need control of the site, and once we do that, we can move forward,” Bok said.

Bok, the Malden Redevelopment Authority, and National Grid have been negotiating since July to craft a long-term lease for the site, one of the last major developable parcels downtown. The parties hope to reach agreement this fall by signing a letter of intent, and then a formal lease, officials said.

The letter “will be the basis for a more detailed lease,” Deborah Drew, a National Grid spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail to Globe North.

Stephen M. Wishoski, executive director of the authority, said the letter of intent is a critical step. “The legal letter of intent is, in effect, the terms of the lease,” he said. “We’re down to the nitty-gritty. We continue to make progress. I’m confident we will have it wrapped up soon.”

The park, which would occupy almost an entire city block, would have 16 sky boxes, a pro shop, a restaurant, and a 30,000-square-foot plaza opening onto Commercial Street. The team would play 70 games, most of them on nights and weekends, according to a project outline.

The redevelopment authority chose the baseball group to redevelop the National Grid site, located across from the MBTA Orange Line station. National Grid would lease the property to the authority, which would sublease the site to Bok. Negotiations started soon after Boston Baseball was designated as the developer in February.

An industrial site for more than a century, the property is contaminated with coal, tar, and other waste. Federal law requires that a property owner clean up a contaminated waste site before it is turned over for a new use. National Grid is working with Boston Baseball to come up with a plan to clean the site, Drew said.

“Because the environmental mitigation activities will be coordinated with the construction of the baseball stadium,” Drew wrote, “we are currently working closely with the stadium designers and environmental experts to develop a plan.”

If an agreement is reached with National Grid, Bok said, he will restart talks with three private business owners, whose land must be acquired for the stadium to be built.

The three businesses — Collex Collision, L&L Services, and Spadafora Auto Parts — occupy 2.7 acres along Canal and Charles streets.

Bok said he approached the business owners last spring. “We’ve made offers to purchase,” he said. “They have declined as of now. I think they’re waiting to see if we can get a deal done with National Grid. We’ll go back to them, if and when that happens.”

Bok said he offered to pay a fair price for the parcels. “We made them above-market offers. Those parcels all have environmental issues, and we offered what they would be worth if they didn’t have them,” Bok said.

A lawyer representing Spadafora Auto Parts and L&L Services disputed Bok’s assertion.

“He didn’t make an offer,” said George A. McLaughlin, a lawyer with the McLaughlin Brothers firm of Boston. “He wanted to have an option to buy the properties. Who in their right mind would do that? It would have a chilling effect on your ability to market your property” in the future.

McLaughlin also questioned how Bok would know if his clients’ land has environmental issues. “He doesn’t know if its dirty land. Did he test it?”

A representative of Collex Collision could not be reached for comment.

If negotiations are not successful with the business owners, Wishoski said the redevelopment authority would consider taking the land by eminent domain. The authority is preparing an urban renewal plan for the location, which must be submitted to the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

“We’re working on the plan for the entire block,” he said. “But before we do anything formal, we want to make sure a deal is in place.”

Eminent domain allows a public body to take private land, as long as the property owner is fairly compensated. McLaughlin, a specialist in eminent domain law, said his clients will be prepared if the city takes that step.

He noted that Spadafora Auto Parts relocated to Canal Street after its property in another part of Malden was taken by eminent domain in the 1960s.

“They’ve been through this once before,” said McLaughlin.

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMc­Cabe.
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