- The Washington Times - Friday, March 15, 2002

Anticipating Major League Baseball relocating a franchise to Northern Virginia, the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority last night gave the go-ahead to seek proposals for designing a ballpark that likely would cost in excess of $300 million.
The authority also approved the hiring of Mike Duckett, who helped oversee the development of Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers. Duckett will assist the authority in preparing contracts and putting together a construction team for the ballpark.
Gabe Paul, executive director of the authority, said the move to hire an architect and engineering team was an effort to be prepared if and when MLB officials decide to move a team to Northern Virginia.
Although baseball officials have maintained they still plan to eliminate, or contract, two franchises by next season, speculation has continued that the Montreal Expos currently owned by all 29 major league owners will be sold after this season and relocated to the Washington area.
"This gives us a chance to get a jump on everything that needs to be done so that when baseball makes their decision we have a head start on the ballpark," Paul said. "We are very positive that Major League Baseball will relocate a team to Northern Virginia. This is a significant move toward the process of construction of the ballpark. We are only doing this because we think this is the place Major League Baseball wants to move."
Fairfax County Supervisor Michael Frey, chairman of the authority, concurred.
"We want to show Major League Baseball that we can meet whatever time frame they have and that all of the elements are in place [for relocation]," Frey said.
Duckett is executive director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Stadium District and was hired as a consultant for $30,000. The Brewers had been owned by baseball commissioner Bud Selig but now are operated by his daughter.
"[Duckett] brings a lot of expertise to the table that we can utilize," Paul said. "He is helping Green Bay with the Packers' new stadium."
A group led by telecommunications executive Bill Collins has been trying to bring a franchise to Northern Virginia since 1994.
Another group, led by financier Fred Malek, wants to bring a baseball team to the District. Last week Malek said his group is also working on the premise that baseball will relocate a team to the District by the 2003 or 2004 season. They have been meeting with members of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission to refine financing proposals and study potential sites for a stadium in the city.
There has been speculation that the state's budget crisis might jeopardize plans to bring a franchise to Northern Virginia. But Paul said his group remains optimistic that it can raise the money to finance a ballpark. He noted that two-thirds of the funding, private contributions by the Collins group and taxes generated from the ballpark, are already in place.
"The rest of the money will not come out of the general fund," Paul said. "We never anticipated it would come out of the general fund. We won't be competing with education funds and other money needs. We are looking for other areas of funding."
Paul said the group has hired Ron Tillet, former secretary of finance for the state, to find ways to generate those remaining funds.
Still to be determined is where the proposed ballpark would be. Paul said the authority has been working with HOK, the ballpark development firm, on the site selection process. There have been numerous reports that a ballpark would be built in the Crystal City area, near the Pentagon.


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