- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2004

NEW YORK — The Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority is attempting a late rally on its long troubled ballpark site situation, focusing efforts on a tract of land near Dulles International Airport.

Industry sources said executive director Gabe Paul Jr. wrote a letter this week to all 30 major league clubs saying the authority has a completed financing plan for a site near the intersection of Route28 and the Dulles Toll Road.

Paul was not available for comment last night, and authority spokesman Brian Hannigan declined to comment on any communication with Major League Baseball’s relocation committee or the details of a new proposal. But both Hannigan and Jerry Burkot, spokesman for a prospective ownership group led by William Collins III, said interest in the Dulles area is quite high.

“The Dulles site identified remains a prime location for a ballpark,” Hannigan said.

Burkot also said Paul’s letter had been in the works for “some time.”

“I knew [the letter] was happening. It’s obviously important to keep everyone within baseball up to date to with what we’re doing, keep up the lines of communication,” Burkot said.

The location is one of five identified last year by the authority as site candidates. But privately, Virginia baseball boosters had considered it more of a fallback as efforts focused on locations in Pentagon City. Those Arlington efforts, however, proved futile as government and community opposition mounted, pushing the authority’s stadium efforts back outside the Beltway.

“We never took Dulles off the table,” Burkot said. “It was always on our radar.”

The Associated Press reported last night that the Dulles site would be developed in conjunction with Marriott Corp. The authority has spent the last several months seeking private developers to join its ballpark efforts so as to eliminate any need for front-end capital from an incoming team owner.

Meanwhile, MLB’s relocation committee yesterday met for 21/2 hours at league offices here, sifting through reams of revised stadium proposals presented by each of the six candidates for the Montreal Expos: the District, Northern Virginia, Norfolk, Portland, Ore., Las Vegas and Monterrey, Mexico.

Two primary pieces of information resulted from that session. First, the data collecting portion of the committee’s 18-month search process is now over, and the full panel will present its findings to commissioner Bud Selig within the next month. All six candidates will be discussed, and no rank ordering will be done. But favorites of some sort are sure to emerge, and Selig then will lay out further direction.

It remains baseball’s intention to announce the new home of the MLB-owned Expos by midsummer and move the club in time for Opening Day 2005.

Second, baseball is no longer mandating that jurisdictions produce fully financed stadium financing in advance of MLB choosing a relocation destination.

The new stance is a significant change for baseball, which for more than two years has insisted cities produce ratified stadium legislation so as to avoid ballpark troubles that now plague teams such as Oakland and Minnesota.

But with less than 90 days remaining before baseball intends to make its choice on the Expos’ new home, none of the six jurisdictions have met the standard.

To date, only two major pieces of ratified stadium legislation now exist related to this situation: Portland’s state financing that allows use of ballplayer income taxes to pay off bonds, now worth an estimated $140 million, and Northern Virginia’s bonding authority to capture ballpark-related sales and use taxes for stadium construction. The commonwealth’s bonds would still need final approval from Richmond.

“It is not a prerequisite for all the financing to be passed for us to make a choice,” said Bob DuPuy, MLB president. “It is a prerequisite before the team is transferred and the franchise is sold.

“We have relied on the representations from the various areas on the availability of financing can be produced as necessary. We believe those representations are achievable,” DuPuy said.

It is likely a relocation choice will be made contingent on completing the stadium financing.

The softened stance from baseball on the stadium financing eases a testy battle of wills that has existed in many communities during MLB’s ownership of the Expos, now in its third season. Most notably, Jack Evans, D.C. Council finance chairman, said he would refuse to discuss any ballpark legislation without a firm commitment from baseball on the Expos.

Now it appears he may not need to. During MLB’s meeting earlier this month with District officials, Mayor Anthony Williams said he could produce ballpark financing within 45 days should the city gain the franchise. The other candidates have made similar pledges.

Baseball also continues to offer maddeningly mixed signals on the Baltimore Orioles’ objection to a team in the Washington area.

During the MLB-District meeting this month, relocation committee officials said the Orioles should not be a factor in making its decision. But DuPuy said yesterday, “[Selig] has stated from day one that he has grave concerns about the impact that locating a franchise in a particular community might have on other franchises in other communities. Obviously, putting a team in Northern Virginia or Washington would have an impact on the Baltimore franchise, and the commissioner has expressed his concerns about that.”

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