On Monday, Major League Baseball had its opening day. Over the weekend, though, local residents and county officials took the field against stadium backers, hoping to bring the national pastime back to the Capitol region.
On Saturday, March 29, representatives of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority announced five potential sites for a stadium, along with preliminary design plans and financing projections. One of the proposed locations is in Fairfax County, the former Engineer Proving Grounds at Fort Belvoir.
Three of the other locations are in Arlington – two in Pentagon City and one in Rosslyn. The other one is near Dulles Airport. Investors hope to make the stadium the new home for the Montreal Expos within the next three years.
“You’re starting to see some of the things that have excited us so much,” said Michael Frey, VBSA chairman.
But outside the press conference, there were Crystal City residents who weren’t so thrilled by the plans. “We love our neighborhood… and we think this would ruin it,” said Judy King, one of about 50 picketers against building a stadium in Arlington.
“I don’t think Arlington has the infrastructure to support 40,000 people coming in and going out at the same time,” said Anne Fisher, another protester.
The Springfield site is in the Lee District and Supervisor Dana Kauffman said he was against any baseball stadium coming to the Fort Belvoir area.
"This project is out of step with our current plans and our public priorities. Two years ago we modified the comprehebsuve.plan for the area and this just doesn't fit in with that plan. We are trying to attract jobs that will further our public investiment."
Besides the comprehensive plan, one another factor added up to a near strike our for Kauffman: transportation.
"Metro means county dollars it will have to be used to fund the project. A better investment would be to extend the Blue line to Belvoir, rather extend it for baseball. The existing key employment center is Belvoir and the greater need is to get from points north, south and west."
Kauffman said if he was to choose a site he'd take one of the Arlington sites where two Metro stops can be accessed and the view to the D.C. monuments would be spectacular.
As for public investment, Kauffman said the only tool available in hand is the property tax and "that's already too high. People would probably like to see a reduction in real estate taxes."
STADIUM AUTHORITIES officials plan to begin a campaign “almost immediately” to reach out to local residents and try to convince them that the stadium plan will work.
“A lot of the [oppenents’] fears are based on the last generation of ballparks,” said Frey. Monolithic ballparks like Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia were poorly designed and brought traffic congestion, noise and light pollution. But current designs minimize those effects, stadium supporters say.
Improvements in stadium design will be one of the key factors in a battle for public support that will ultimately make or break the efforts to draw baseball to Virginia. “If the public says that they don’t want baseball, then it won’t come here,” said Gabe Paul Jr., VBSA’s executive director.
STADIUM COSTS VARY according to site, ranging from the cheapest location, the Engineer Proving Grounds in Springfield at Fort Belvoir – estimated to cost $378.6 million – to the Rosslyn location, at an estimated cost of $609.5 million.
One-third of the cost would come from The Virginia Baseball Club, LP, a group of private investors headed by William Collins, a Virginia telecommunications executive and a former Milwaukee Brewer. The Stadium Authority would finance the rest.
Revenue generated by the stadium over the next 30 years would pay for construction costs, said Ronald Tillett, managing director of investment firm Morgan Keegan & Company, which conducted financial studies on the stadium proposal for VBSA. So taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay for stadium construction.
However, that plan is based on bonds issued by the Stadium Authority, but backed by the Commonwealth of Virginia. So if baseball doesn’t meet earnings projections, state taxpayers could end up paying off the bonds.
VIRGINIA’S STADIUM will be a “new classic American ballpark,” said Bryan Trubey, the head architect for HKS, Inc., which designed the proposed stadium.
The façade would be constructed in Virginia’s traditional Georgian architectural style, Trubey said, and beyond the outfield wall, a grassy seating area would give fans the feeling that they are picnicking at a park, as spectators did in the early days of baseball.
Although officials stressed that all five sites are being considered, some of the ballpark’s design features were tailored to Arlington, including possibly of sharing space with a high-tech conference center.
Entrances to the stadium would be pedestrian friendly, which VBSA officials hope will help minimize traffic in surrounding neighborhoods on game days. Frey expects about 40 percent of visitors to an Arlington stadium to walk from nearby Metro stations rather than drive to games.
Neighbors also won’t have to worry about noise and light pollution, or obstructed views of the District. Architects said they designed the park to channel noise away from nearby residential areas. The park would be partially recessed, with the playing field and first 20 rows of seats below street-level. That means the stadium’s high-tech lighting system won’t be shining in anyone’s window, officials said.
OFFICIALS HAVE TIME to think it over. The Stadium Authority will not choose a site until Major League Baseball grants a conditional relocation approval for the Expos, and it’s still uncertain when or even if that will happen.
“It’s like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown,” said Paul Ferguson, chair of the county board. Major League Baseball has dangled the possibility of a team time and again since Ferguson took office in 1996, he said, and plans have fallen through time and again.
For the present, Ferguson is trying to stay neutral on the possible stadium. Despite efforts by state and national elected officials to bring baseball to Virginia, Ferguson said doesn’t feel political pressure to approve a stadium.
“There is a strong bipartisan delegation effort leading this, and certainly as a board member I have friends that are on both sides of the issue,” he said. “None of them seem to be happy with me.”