- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Virginia baseball boosters made perhaps their boldest case yet for the Montreal Expos yesterday.

The group formally proposed a $360 million stadium near Dulles International Airport that would be joined by a man-made lake and a massive commercial development with office space, a hotel, retail shops and housing.

At a press conference, prospective team owner William Collins was bold in assessing how a team at the Dulles site would be marketed. And in a slight nod to the remoteness of the site, Collins said he didn’t plan to market the team extensively to fans in the District, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Southern Maryland.

“We’ve always looked south and west of the [Potomac],” Collins said. “Nothing has really changed there. In this area, you do not want to cross any bridges.”

Yesterday was the sort of press conference the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority intended to hold last year in Pentagon City. Instead of the stiff opposition from landowners and Arlington County officials, the authority had the full support of the Loudoun County government, as well as a pending con-

tract to buy part of the needed land near the Dulles Toll Road and Route 28.

The revised vision of baseball in Virginia will go against a decade-long trend of urban-centered ballparks and build a new town center in which a ballpark is the centerpiece.

“We have the political will to get this done. We are absolutely ready to go,” authority chairman Keith Frederick said before a crowd of several hundred area supporters and youth baseball players. “Our message to Major League Baseball is very simple. We have your new fans here, and we have your new stadium deal here.”

MLB executives intend to select the Expos’ new home this summer. But the issue that has dogged the Dulles baseball plans since they became known last month — the site’s accessibility to central Washington — remains as problematic as ever.

The authority yesterday also released preliminary findings from a traffic study confirming what area drivers know all too well — western Fairfax and Loudoun counties, while home to an array of corporations, can be difficult to reach during the afternoon and evening rush hour.

The study, conducted by two Virginia transportation engineering firms, predicted the average commute to the Dulles stadium from any point in suburban Maryland or Washington would be at least an hour. Numerous spots in Virginia, including Ballston, Alexandria and Tysons Corner would exceed 45 minutes. The times assumed travel between 5 and 6 p.m. and, where appropriate, the use of high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

“Unless you’re just on the other side of the [Potomac] River, you’re probably looking at more than an hour,” said James Curran, vice president of Transcore, one of the two companies conducting the study.

Following comments from the authority in recent weeks, Collins also said the site is “60 miles and two hours from Camden Yards. I urge [Orioles owner] Peter Angelos to endorse this site.”

Angelos, though more resigned to the likelihood of Washington-area baseball, remains opposed to a second team anywhere in the region.

Yesterday’s Dulles press conference also put to rest recent whispers of renewed authority interest in Pentagon City. Stakeholders there are as opposed to baseball as ever, and Frederick yesterday said, “[Dulles] is where our focus is.”

Engineering studies are under way to serve the area by rail, but a rail system reaching the Dulles site is probably more than a decade away. In the interim, shuttle buses would be offered from several points, most notably Wiehle Avenue in Reston.

Authority officials, meanwhile, feel stronger about the viability of its stadium financing plan. It recently was revised to include the participation of three prominent developers: Beazer, Centex and Van Metre Cos. The trio constitute the newly formed Diamond Lake Associates. The company will take a lead role in land acquisition and developments areas shared by the stadium and other construction, such as parking, utilities and zoning. As a result, the proposed cost of the stadium is reduced by $82 million from $442 million and will not require the enactment of any local hospitality taxes. Such supplemental funding was planned for the past several years.

The authority actively pursued the inclusion of private developers for several months. Their involvement also allowed for the change in the contribution by a team owner of one third of the ballpark by cost from an up-front lump sum to annual rent payments of $10.1 million. Public-sector funds would emanate from taxes on stadium-related commerce and ballplayer salaries and retail space rental fees.

“This is a solid, fully funded plan. And what we won’t do is tax the general public or other businesses,” said Gabe Paul Jr., authority executive director.

The last comment marked a veiled shot at the District, which refuses to enact any stadium legislation into law without a commitment of the Expos from baseball. The District’s proposal will rely significantly on taxes on the gross receipts or property of large District businesses.

Authority and Diamond Lake officials declined to provide details about their pending land acquisition for part of the 450-acre Dulles site, citing confidentiality agreements. But the site will need to be assembled through several landowners, including Jordan businessman Samir Kawar.

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