- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Northern Virginia’s much-debated baseball proposals received a more favorable audience at a public forum held last night in Arlington.

The public session, organized by the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, was the first formal community forum held by the commonwealth’s baseball lobby in more than nine years of active pursuit of a team. After all the wait, the area that has stopped Walt Disney Co., the Washington Redskins and many other high-profile entities in its development tracks showed much more willingness toward a new 42,500-seat stadium.

“I truly miss the days with baseball around here, and I think I speak for a lot of people around here,” said Jerry Foster of Reston. “My main question is whether this is finally going to happen this time.”

Before last night, numerous citizen and neighborhood groups in Northern Virginia, particularly Arlington, publicly opposed building a ballpark. Two of the commonwealth’s leading ballpark site options are in Pentagon City and have generated heavy attention from baseball opponents.

Authority officials, however, have insisted stadium opponents are grossly outnumbered and aim to document support for Virginia baseball with the release later this week of polling data showing significant favoritism for its cause. Virginians for Baseball, one of the leading pro baseball fan clubs, claims more than 13,000 members in its directory.

Architects last night outlined Virginia’s three ballpark site options in Arlington, proposed financing details and solicited questions. Besides the Pentagon City spots, the other proposed Arlington site is in Rosslyn. The stadium authority also has targeted spots in Springfield and near Dulles International Airport as site options.

“We feel we have put together a very realistic, a very conservative and very doable project proposal,” said Gabe Paul Jr., stadium authority executive director.

The commonwealth is proposing to fund a $400million ballpark project with as much as $285million in public-sector financing. That chunk would come from bonds funded by ballpark-related sales and admissions taxes, potential tourism-related taxes on hotel stays and rental cars and nonresident income taxes.

Such “jock taxes” have generated concern from Major League Baseball officials, but Virginia’s nonresident taxation applies to all occupations and has been part of the tax code for years. The rest of the money for stadium construction would come from private sources. Authority officials want baseball to award the Expos conditionally to Virginia before they complete public financing.

Opposition did surface at last night’s forum. The authority’s site and financing presentation was interrupted several times by complaints over traffic, noise and financing concerns, and individual questioning from citizens often grew heated.

And despite the generally positive showing last night of citizen support, none of the landowners of the proposed ballpark sites has shown any willingness to sell the land.

“The [financing] numbers are still based on suppositions,” said Sarah Summerville, chairman of No Arlington Stadium Coalition, an active opposition group. “The numbers are not truly realistic. What if the ballpark costs more than $400million? It could cost a lot more than that.”

Last night’s forum comes less than two months before MLB officials are expected to announce the new home for the long-struggling Montreal Expos. Some belief within baseball exists, however, that the owners will opt to wait another year before making a decision. The Expos will play 22 of 81 home games this season in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The District, also mounting a bid for the MLB-owned Expos, has held three public forums in its development of ballpark site and financing options. Attendance peaked at more than 200 for the last of those sessions. Citizen support for returning baseball to Washington was strong, but concern about public financing for a ballpark was heavy. The public forums also were instrumental in removing two potential stadium sites between Union Station and Mount Vernon Square from further consideration.

The District’s leading ballpark site, along New York Avenue NE, has faced no organized citizen opposition.

Several more public forums are planned by the VBSA, with the next to be held tonight in Springfield.

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