- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2003

Fifty-five percent of Arlington residents support a baseball stadium in Pentagon City, the favored spot for a Virginia-based team, according to a new study released yesterday by the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority.

But the authority-commissioned study, aimed at measuring potential fan support for a Virginia-based team, and its results drew immediate skepticism from anti-stadium activists.

The study also found an estimated 3.5million Virginians would be likely to attend at least one game of a Virginia-based team per year; a Virginia team would generate a projected season ticket base of nearly 28,000, which would rank among the best in Major League Baseball; and a Virginia team would be far less damaging to the attendance or TV viewership of the Baltimore Orioles than a District-based club.

“We believe this gives further proof that people truly want to see major league baseball in Northern Virginia and will support it,” said authority chairman Michael Frey.

The No Arlington Stadium Coalition (NASC), a prominent anti-stadium group, immediately attacked the findings. The study does not ask any questions about traffic, noise, congestion, public financing or property values — several of the stadium opponents’ major concerns.

Questions also surfaced about the wording of several survey questions. One part of the survey asked respondents to agree or disagree with the following statement: “Since a new stadium and Major League Baseball team will generate over $250million in [annual] economic activity and over 3,000 jobs, having a team in Virginia will be good for our economy.” The figures are estimates from prominent economists, but not varied facts.

The question that asked Arlington residents whether they support a Pentagon City stadium made specific mention of the commonwealth’s intent not to siphon general funds from the treasury. It also mentioned building a Little League field adjacent to the stadium.

“I think they were out to get a result here,” said Les Garrison of the NASC. “The VBSA has proven themselves to be a very effective organization when it comes to propaganda.

“I have no doubt that 55percent of the people they talked to thought an Arlington stadium was a neat idea. But if those same people really looked at all the proposed plans and looked at the cost-benefit analyses, I think that number of support would be much lower,” Garrison said.

Thirty-eight percent of Arlington residents surveyed in the poll said they do not support a Pentagon City stadium, and 7percent were unsure. That particular question had a margin of error of 5.6 percent.

Gabe Paul Jr., authority executive director, denied trying to engineer the survey results.

“We were simply trying to be as specific as possible and give a full outline of what we’re trying to offer. That’s why the questions are as they are,” he said.

Yesterday’s survey follows up an authority study two years ago on the potential effect of a Virginia team on the Baltimore Orioles. That survey found just 13percent of Orioles’ fan base comes from greater Washington, far less than any figure released by the Orioles.

While the methodology from that study also generated complaints from several sources, including the Orioles, some of the basic findings in that report were corroborated by a recent District-led survey.

Surveying for the new Virginia study was done by random-dial telephone surveys between Jan.24 and Jan.27, and then between March10 and March13, totaling 1,351 respondents. The dates were all before authority officials publicly named five potential stadium sites in the commonwealth, and in turn before a vigorous battle developed between Arlington stadium opponents and supporters.

In recent weeks, there’s been extensive lobbying by both sides. As a result, up-to-date data on the true citizen feelings toward an Arlington stadium are difficult to obtain. Numerous civic associations have made formal proclamations against a stadium, suggesting strong homeowner feeling against an Arlington stadium. However, two well-attended public forums hosted this week by the stadium authority generated heavy pro-stadium crowds and suggests broad stadium support also exists.

“We think this survey greatly supports the notion that Virginia could definitely become the next great baseball market,” said prospective team owner William Collins.

The survey arrives less than two months before MLB officials may announce a decision on the relocation of the Montreal Expos.

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