- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2003

The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation yesterday started an aggressive public relations effort against the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority and its intention to build a ballpark on land owned by the foundation and its partners in Pentagon City.

Cafritz Foundation executives, acting in concert with its business partner, the District-based H Street Building Corp., yesterday released the results of a commissioned opinion poll showing 64 percent of Arlington residents against a new stadium in the county.

Officials of both organizations additionally spoke out for the first time about the proposed stadium. Before yesterday, only foundation attorney John Barron had publicly communicated the group’s heated objections to the proposed ballpark.

“We have owned this land for more than 50 years and intend to continue to own it for another 50 years, and another 50 years after that,” said Jack Ritchie, H Street Building Corp. president. “There has been much speculation about the possibility that, if we do not agree to sell to the Stadium Authority, they may attempt to take our site by condemnation. It’s an unfortunate situation when a long-term landowner is forced to incur substantial expense to keep the government from coming along and taking his property for what is really a private use.”

Ritchie said he and the foundation would not sell “at any price.”

The foundation and H Street Building Corp. have proposed jointly to build a series of mixed-use towers on the land, as well as a high-end conference center on the north end, near Army-Navy Drive. Applications for the projects are currently on file with Arlington County officials, with construction to begin as soon as 2005.

To support that effort, the two organizations yesterday also released a preliminary economic study projecting at least $400million emanating directly from that proposed development between 2004 and 2033. A ballpark, conversely, would retain all of its immediate tax revenues to retire the construction debt on the building over that same time period.

Stadium authority executive director Gabe Paul Jr. yesterday said, as he has for weeks, that “we feel confident that once we get an award of a team, we will be able to negotiate with any landowner.”

Added Authority chairman Michael Frey: “Businessmen and developers hate uncertainty. Once the uncertainty of what baseball is going to do is gone, we feel very confident we would able to talk to [the Cafritz Foundation].”

Barron this year has written letters to Major League Baseball, the stadium authority and then each team owner asking for the Pentagon City land to be taken off any prospective stadium site list.

The Cafritz Foundation, named for one of Washington’s most prominent developers, is one of the largest owners of commercial property in Pentagon City. Other foundation-owned tracts there include the James at River Place apartment complex.

Arlington board members have not taken an official position on a ballpark in the county but have asked for a study on the opportunity costs of the three proposed ballpark sites in the county. The others include the site of the current Costco store in Pentagon City and the River Place apartment complex in Rosslyn.

Major League Baseball’s relocation committee originally intended to make a recommendation on the future of the Montreal Expos by Tuesday’s All-Star Game. But any type of decision on the Expos next week is unlikely, and a growing number of baseball insiders believe that relocating the Expos before the 2004 season is all but impossible. Northern Virginia is competing for the club with the District and Portland, Ore.

The opinion poll, taken between July 2-7, directly opposes one released in May by the stadium authority that showed 55 percent of Arlingtonians favoring a stadium. Questions in the authority poll took great pains to mention proposed stadium elements such as a youth field and the use of no general fund revenues for financing. This newest poll included none of those.

“The clients asked for information on a variety of core topics related to this matter, such as traffic and taxation,” said John Sincere, president of Arlington Research Group, the Charlottesville-based firm that led the poll. “They felt the prior poll wasn’t really accurate and was originally designed for their own internal use. Once we saw the results, we knew it would be dynamite for [public relations].”

As a result, the true feeling of Arlingtonians on the stadium issue remains as clouded as ever. Just as many other informal surveys also have shown heavy opposition in Arlington toward a stadium, Virginians for Baseball — the leading fan club for the Virginia baseball effort — now numbers more than 13,000 members.

Meanwhile, authority officials discussed its proposed stadium financing plan yesterday in a meeting with reporters and editors of The Washington Times.

The commonwealth’s plan —based on existing legislation — aims to generate between $23.1million and $40.1million in annual tax revenues for a stadium, assuming an attendance of at least 3.2million in the first year, stabilizing down to an average of 2million. The leading generators of those funds would be admissions and sales taxes on ballpark-related commerce, and a tax on the incomes of visiting ballplayers.

Unlike the District, which had been actively seeking a politically unpopular tax on the incomes of ballplayers, Virginia taxation on nonresident incomes already is a matter of law.

Last year the stadium authority struggled mightily with how to close a funding gap projected at about 33percent of the annual funds needed to service stadium bonds fully. The primary answer to close the gap is a planned 125,000-square foot retail center housed within the ballpark. The retail element would be a dual revenue stream reaping both rental income and more sales tax revenue for stadium bonds.

“This is a concept that came out of working with HKS [Inc., the authority’s Dallas-based stadium architect], the idea of a true urban village,” Paul said. “This model, with this extra retail and restaurant component, has worked successfully at numerous other parks.”

Local increases to hotel and car rental taxes also will be sought if Northern Virginia gets the Expos.

The $400 million funding model assumes a 42,000-seat ballpark, an average ticket price of $26 when it would open in 2007 and fan spending on concessions similar to other newer ballparks. Authority officials insist that even with a 25-year average attendance of 1.25million fans a year, which would currently rank among the very worst in MLB, stadium bonds could be paid.

“A team here generating only 1.25million in attendance borders on the absurd,” said Mitchell Ziets, the authority’s New Jersey-based financial consultant. “But we had to run all the models to ensure this could still work, and the answer is yes.”

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