First it was a long shot. Then it was off the table. Now there’s a renewed possibility that a new Arlington conference center could share space with a baseball stadium. “We’re looking at that to be fair about it,” said Adam Wasserman last week.
That statement came just weeks after Wasserman, director of Economic Development, said that co-location of a major league baseball stadium and a high-tech conference center would be “fraught with complications.” County officials, he said, were not considering a proposal from the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority to build the center along with a ballpark.
Late last month, though, Stadium Authority officials released a study conducted by consultants at Florida-based Conventional Wisdom Corporation that concluded the county could save over $31 million in construction costs by linking the two projects. A short time later, County Board Chair Paul Ferguson directed the County Manager to study the economic impacts the two facilities would have on the county.
“There should be a significant savings in construction and operations,” said Gabe Paul, Jr., Executive Director of the Stadium Authority.
For about two years, County Board members and officials in Arlington Economic Development have been eyeing sites in Arlington for an $80-120 million conference center that could help revive the slumping tourism industry and attract business gatherings too small for the D.C. Convention Center and too large for local hotels.
Late board chair Charles Monroe made the conference center one of his top priorities for this year, and after his sudden death in January, his successor Paul Ferguson vowed to carry forward Monroe’s goal of making a decision on the conference center before the end of the year.
For months, Ferguson said that the county would not devote time or resources to studying the possible impact of an Arlington stadium until and unless Major League Baseball awarded a team to Virginia and stadium backers submitted a formal proposal.
But board members say planning for the conference center changed the issue, and a study is now necessary.
CONSULTANTS FROM Conventional Wisdom and stadium backers say co-location would provide other benefits in addition to saving $31 million in construction costs.
“This larger, combined operation would be able to attract and retain a higher caliber of employee, especially in the administrative, executive, and event services classifications,” the report says. “Combining booking, contract administration, fiscal, purchasing, human resources, and data/technical services provides greater operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness.”
Paul puts it another way. “With conference planners, they’re always looking for something unique,” he said, and nowhere in the country can offer a conference center alongside a ballpark.
In his mind’s eye, Paul sees corporate dinners held on the field’s warning track, and the name of visiting companies in lights on the scoreboard. “It’s kind of magic,” he said.
BASEBALL BACKERS STILL face an uphill battle in convincing county officials of the merits of co-location. “It’s not probable,” said County Manager Ron Carlee. “But I won’t say ‘never’ to anything until it’s been fully reviewed.”
“It needs to be shown that any significant savings, as has been projected, would be real,” said Wasserman. Economic Development staffers are reviewing the Conventional Wisdom study now, and could come to a conclusion within the next few weeks.
Baseball backers say co-location should appeal to county officials, but they aren’t resting all of their stadium hopes on the county warming up to a conference center next door. “If it doesn’t, then they can go their way and we can go our way,” said Paul.
The decision could come down to a choice between the stadium authority and a private developer. Vienna-based KSI Services, Inc. has offered to include a conference center in their plans for “One Metropolitan Park,” a mixed-use project that could bring over 3,200 new luxury apartment units to a single block in Pentagon City.
“The Applicant believes that this parcel specifically, and Pentagon City, generally, is the most ideal location for the conference center,” wrote Barnes Lawson, an attorney for KSI, in an amendment request filed with the county.
Despite their opposition to use of their land for a stadium, Cafritz Foundation officials are behind the conference center, just not for the typical reasons. In an economic study, consultants hired by Cafritz assumed a conference center would provide no economic gain to the landowners or the developer.
Instead, offering to build the county’s conference center is a move to curry favor with board members in Cafritz’s fight against stadium plans. “In part, it would be a concession,” admitted Calvin Cafritz, President and CEO of the Foundation.