- The Washington Times - Friday, May 21, 2004

NEW YORK — Northern Virginia’s long-silent effort to gain a major league baseball team now has a vital supporter: the owner of land near Dulles International Airport that is being considered as the site for a ballpark.

Representatives of Samir Kawar, a Jordanian businessman and a former member of parliament whose company owns the land, said they are in talks with the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority. A deal to sell the parcel, located just north of the intersection of Route 28 and the Dulles Toll Road, could happen if Virginia is awarded the Montreal Expos, they said.

“We’re in ongoing discussions. There has been quite a lot of interest, continued interest from the baseball folks,” said Earl Glock, Kawar’s District-based attorney. “I think the site has as good a road network as any [proposed] in the area.”

Glock declined to speculate on the likelihood of a deal.

Glock’s comments represent a marked change from those he made a year ago, when he tersely said “a baseball stadium isn’t exactly high on the list.”

Gabe Paul Jr., executive director of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, wrote commissioner Bud Selig and each team owner this week, saying the authority has a fully financed plan to develop the Dulles parcel for a ballpark in conjunction with Marriott. The move is the boldest step by the authority in many months and one of the most significant in Northern Virginia’s often difficult 11-year quest for baseball.

Arlington County officials and activists last year helped derail efforts to put a ballpark in Pentagon City. The stadium authority has stayed quiet since, refusing to disclose details on its quest for a new site or its contact with Major League Baseball executives.

“You don’t go public until you’re ready, and right now we’re not yet ready,” Paul said. “We hope to be announcing some things to the public very soon.”

When the authority placed the Dulles site on its short list of candidates 14 months ago, plans for collateral development included an 800-room hotel and nearly 3million square feet of office and retail space.

“This isn’t going to be some cow pasture — it’ll be quite urban,” said a source closely connected to the Virginia baseball effort. “This is where a lot of the growth in the region is going.”

However, transportation to a stadium on the Dulles site remains a thorny issue. Traffic around the site, particularly on the toll road and Route 28, is clogged during rush hours. A proposed high-speed rail system may not reach the area for another 10 or 12 years. MLB wants a ballpark for the Expos to open in 2007 or 2008.

The effort also seeks to go against a firm, decade-long trend in which stadiums have been built in downtown locations.

“There’s no way baseball is going out to Dulles,” said Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission.

Selig provided no additional clues to the future home of the Expos as two days of owners meetings ended yesterday in New York.

MLB says it still intends to make a decision around July’s All-Star Game. However, the commissioner continued to obfuscate on the Baltimore Orioles issue.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos opposes the move of a team to the District or Northern Virginia, and Selig is said to have “grave concerns” about the economic impact of such a move upon the Baltimore club.

Numerous industry sources regard the District as the front-runner to get the Expos but say the attempt to put a stadium near Dulles likely will make some owners reconsider Northern Virginia’s bid.

Selig said yesterday that he wants the Expos’ future home to make “the best contribution possible to baseball.”

“This sentiment of mine is not new. I’ve always been extremely sensitive to the effect of one club on another, in all markets” Selig said. “My job is to protect the interests of all 30 clubs. We want to be very thoughtful in how we do this.”

Selig said he was aware of Paul’s letter describing the Dulles efforts but declined to comment further on it or on his latest impressions of the District or Northern Virginia bids.

The relocation committee will present its findings to Selig within the month, likely sometime in early June.

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