- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2003

PHOENIX Officials seeking to bring major league baseball to Northern Virginia presented a financing plan to baseball's relocation committee yesterday that they said will pay for nearly all of a proposed $430million ballpark.
Michael Frey, Fairfax County supervisor and chairman of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, emerged from a nearly three-hour meeting yesterday at Bank One Ballpark with members of baseball's relocation committee formed to decide the future of the Montreal Expos declaring that Virginia had significantly reduced gaps in financing for a new ballpark.
"Most of our financing is in place," Frey said. "The legislation has been passed for several years now, but there is a small hole [in the financing], and we discussed some of the ways we are considering closing that hole. We had talked about $10million [in annual debt costs], but now we think it is significantly less."
Frey refused to discuss how the authority plans to close the gap or even what the gap is under the new financing plan. But sources close to the authority said Virginia officials believe they have closed the annual debt gap to less than $2million, and state officials are hoping to plug that final amount through some sort of tourism-related local tax.
Frey also refused to reveal the new estimate for a ballpark in Northern Virginia, but the sources said Virginia is operating with a $430million model in mind, similar to what District officials are figuring for a park.
"We have to talk to legislators and the local folks over the next few weeks, and that is why we don't want to talk about all those options with all of you and then have them read it in the newspaper before we can personally talk about the kinds of things we are considering," Frey said. None of the final proposed financing would come out of the state's general fund, he said.
Also attending the session were Northern Virginia delegate Vince Callahan, chairman of the Virginia House Appropriations Committee, and authority consultants and staff members. Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and Rep. Tom Davis, Virginia Republican, were supposed to attend the meeting but stayed home because of the war in Iraq.
However, both spoke with committee members yesterday in a teleconference, and Gabe Paul, executive director of the stadium authority, indicated Warner and Davis may hold a private meeting with baseball officials.
"The governor, when he called in, did offer to meet with them, and due to the situation, Major League Baseball has indicated that they will work out a way to get to the governor and with Congressman Davis at another time," Paul said. "It could be a formal meeting or an informal meeting."
Virginia has a financing plan already approved by the General Assembly for $150 million in tax money generated by the ballpark to help pay for the facility. That legislation also calls for the private sector to pay for one-third of the ballpark.
Frey said the authority reiterated Virginia's desire for a "conditional award" of the Expos before final legislation would be adopted.
"We think that before those final pieces can be finalized and exact details can be voted on, we are going to have to have a conditional award," Frey said. "It's just too much to expect from elected officials to make those final decisions without having the assurance that if they do, a team is going to come."
Officials have refused to discuss possible ballpark sites publicly, although The Washington Times reported last month that four sites were under consideration, and two of those in the Pentagon City area are now the favored locations.
Frey said his group had expected to announce more details about financing and sites at a news conference today but postponed it because of the war in Iraq.
"We are in the process of figuring out when to reschedule that," he said.
Frey said the group also argued that the Baltimore Orioles would be far less impacted by a franchise in Northern Virginia than by one in the District. The Orioles remain a concern for baseball officials.
"It's something to be taken into account," Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, said as he left the meeting.
On Thursday, committee members met with District officials and a delegation from Portland, Ore., the two other competing jurisdictions. The committee is expected to meet again in the first week in April to review all three proposals. A recommendation to commissioner Bud Selig is expected by June, and a vote by the 29 major league owners who currently own and operate the Expos could take place by the All-Star break in mid-July.

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