Bats will crack at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium on opening day a year from now and send forth shots heard around the D.C. region, Bill Collins assured baseball enthusiasts and reporters Saturday. And the Major League baseball team producing all those hoped-for hits and runs might later find a permanent home at the Fort Belvoir Engineering and Proving Ground (EPG) in Springfield.
Collins, a former telecommunications executive, who will likely be the owner of the new team, joined colleagues from the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority at an Arlington hotel Saturday to unveil five potential sites for a Major League baseball stadium, designed to lure Major League Baseball to relocate the struggling Montreal Expos from their Canadian home. Besides the EPG, another finalist is in the Dulles area and there are three in Arlington.
"The benefit with this site [EPG], I think, is that some major roadways are already planned by Fairfax County," said Gabe Paul, executive director of the Stadium Authority, noting in particular that the county plans to extend the Fairfax County Parkway. But Paul also said the Authority had not made a final decision on a site.
BUT A BALLPARK at Fort Belvoir will have to be OK'd first by Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee), who represents that area of Fairfax County. And Kauffman has said repeatedly that he does not want to build a stadium anywhere in Lee District.
"It's an idea whose time has passed," he said.
Back in 1998, the Stadium Authority proposed building a stadium in several places in Fairfax County to attract the Texas Rangers, who were thinking about leaving the Lone Star State. Kauffman originally backed a stadium plan in two places in Lee District but was swayed by vocal community opposition.
"I think that Dana had an unfortunate situation come up," said Michael Frey, Kauffman's Sully District colleague on the Board of Supervisors and the chairman of the Stadium Authority. "He felt he was put out on a limb in front of one of his communities with no answers."
Kauffman has different plans for the EPG. He wants to turn it into a biotechnology center.
"We know the burden's on us," said Frey. He vowed to "sit down and work with local governments and elected officials to figure out what is the best site and how to move it forward."
Kauffman said Monday he had not heard from the Stadium Authority about the EPG proposal.
"You've already got the horrible traffic problem in Springfield. You would just have a horrendous mess," said Lon Caldwell, a West Springfield resident. "I'm not against baseball. If they get a team here and they put it in the right place and they don't make the taxpayers pay for it, it would be OK."
"If the public says that they don't want baseball, then it won't come here," said Paul
THE EPG SITE would cost $378.6 million to build, with the state responsible for two-thirds of the cost. To finance its share, the General Assembly agreed to use sales-tax revenues generated at the ballpark as well as an admissions tax and taxes from visiting players' salaries. The Virginia Baseball Club, a group of investors headed by Collins, would come up with the remaining third.
That money would be used to build more than just a ballpark. Bryan Trubey, an architect with HKS, which designed the park, said he also envisioned a smaller baseball diamond for youth tournaments, a "memorial area," as well as retail and restaurant space on an enclosed street near the park.
"Our concept here is that of the European street," he said.
A grassy area behind center field would also let people have picnics while watching the game. The EPG site would provide about 12,000 parking spaces, an 800-room hotel, 800,000 square feet of retail and almost 2 million square feet of office space.
Before any site is chosen, Major League Baseball will have to first decide whether to send the Montreal Expos to Northern Virginia or to one of its competitors for the team, D.C. or Portland, Ore. Baseball officials have said they'd like to announce the Expos' new home by the time of the All-Star game in July.