Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The bank account is all but empty. The dream of major league baseball in the commonwealth is a mere fantasy. But the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority lives on.

Stadium authority officials, still stinging from Major League Baseball’s decision to move the Montreal Expos to the District, voted yesterday to keep operating, repeating a move made in early October.

The move appears curious considering District officials have approved funding for a new stadium for the Washington Nationals, and the authority’s $283,012 in reported assets will allow for no meaningful stadium development work or lobbying before the Virginia General Assembly.

Nonetheless, the move was made in the unlikely case the District ballpark falls through and to support fledgling efforts to bring a MLB franchise to Norfolk.

“We are a creation of the general assembly, and it is up to the general assembly to terminate us if that is their wish,” said Keith Frederick, stadium authority chairman. “There still remains some degree of uncertainty of the finality of the Washington Nationals baseball team being located in Washington, D.C. There are still a number of things that could happen. So for now, it’s business as usual.”

Executive director Gabe Paul Jr., who yesterday said it is “a very, very long shot” the District stadium plan will fall apart, keeps his job until his contract expires in August. He is working out of his Herndon home.

The authority’s “business as usual,” however, will go on without the financial support of William Collins III. The local businessman supplied nearly all operating capital for the authority for seven years in exchange for the designation as the commonwealth’s preferred owner of an MLB franchise.

With plans to build a ballpark near Dulles International Airport dead, Collins and his partners last week allowed their contract with the authority to end. That, in turn, leaves the authority with no expected income for 2005. The $283,012 in assets will allow the authority to maintain an austerity budget until late summer. The authority receives no public funds.

Amid the bleak outlook, two legislators maintain some hope for major league baseball in Virginia. Del. Vince Callahan, McLean Republican, and Del. Terrie Suit, Virginia Beach Republican, last week introduced legislation in Richmond to reinstate the authority’s recently expired ability to use stadium-related taxes to fund ballpark construction. The bill is in a finance subcommittee.

Even if it passes, a new Virginia baseball bill still would need firm backing of the stadium debt to satisfy MLB requirements. Gov. Mark Warner last summer refused to allow the moral obligation of the commonwealth to act as backing for ballpark bonds in the Northern Virginia bid, essentially killing its chances for the Expos.

Back in Northern Virginia, some envy remains that District officials last month were allowed to renegotiate several key provisions of its relocation pact with MLB.

“What we were asking for in terms of a contingent award [of the Expos] is essentially what they got,” Frederick said.

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