- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2004

Northern Virginia’s baseball effort is entering its final year after more than a decade of unsuccessful pursuit. And the question that has colored the entire effort — where the stadium will be located — remains unresolved.

After nearly 11 years, two expansion derbies, a near-purchase of the Houston Astros in 1995 and more than $11million in expenses, Northern Virginia will not extend its search into 2005. Commonwealth law that grants the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority bonding power and the ability to capture tax revenue on ballpark-related commerce expires Dec.31. And patience is running thin throughout Virginia to maintain a chase with no definitive finish line or consolation prize.

“It’s this year or never,” said Keith Frederick, authority chairman. “Major League Baseball has had plenty of chances to look [at Northern Virginia].”

William Collins III, who chairs the Virginia Baseball Club as the commonwealth’s prospective team owner, also plans to disband his group should his long search fail.

“We’re not going to be passive,” he said yesterday at the VBC’s annual media luncheon. “We’re going to be very aggressive and give it our last, best shot.”

The authority, meanwhile, is expanding its pool of stadium sites in the face of stiff government and landowner resistance.

Authority officials declined to specify its new target areas, but baseball sources indicated Virginia boosters are looking at areas in western and southern Fairfax County, particularly Springfield. While both areas are currently choked by traffic problems, such a plan would be keeping with one of the authority’s primary selling points to baseball: its increased distance away from Baltimore compared to the District.

The current battery of five proposed ballpark sites all have encountered significant problems. The authority’s two favored spots, both in Pentagon City, are owned by wealthy companies unwilling to sell. Furthermore, the Arlington County Board last summer formally asked that the authority remove the entire county from ballpark consideration.

“The ship has sort of sailed on Arlington,” a source close to the Virginia baseball effort said. “If we get a team, we’d probably go back to them and give it one last chance. But we’re looking elsewhere.”

In Fairfax County, a proposed ballpark at the Fort Belvoir Engineering Proving Grounds in Springfield has been opposed by the county Board of Supervisors. Two other candidates, a spot near Dulles International Airport and the River Place apartment complex in Rosslyn, are all but dead in the face of landowner hostility.

“There is definitely a desire to have more sites,” said Gabe Paul Jr., authority executive director. “Not so much a need. But sites come up all the time, and we’re still trying to see if there’s any validity to what’s out there.”

Collins said the goal is to have the stadium site issue resolved by April or May, in advance of Major League Baseball’s relocation decision on the Montreal Expos. The authority is also retooling its financing model for a local ballpark. Already relying heavily on a revenue bond structure that would funnel tax money from ballpark-related sales back into the stadium debt, the authority wants to eliminate any need for local hotel or car rental taxes.

“We want to have a situation where we get the team and don’t go to any government for another penny, where we’re 100 percent financed,” Paul said of the projected $400 million stadium. “That’s what we’re working on.”

The other goal in the financial revision is to lessen the upfront, out-of-pocket expense in the stadium from Collins and his investors. MLB executives want a prospective Expos owner to pay as little toward a ballpark as possible to maximize the potential sale price for the Expos. MLB owners paid $120million for the team two years ago, have incurred more than $60million in operating losses since then and want a sizable return on their investment.

The District, also seeking the Expos, is adjusting its stadium financing plan with the same basic goal.

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