Speaking at a hotel in Loudoun County last Wednesday, not far from the proposed site of a $360 million ballpark, organizers behind the push to bring Major League Baseball to Northern Virginia told a gathering of Reston business people that it appears baseball is on its way.
"We're thinking that a decision will be made in the next couple of weeks," said Jerry Burkot, executive director of Virginians for Baseball. "Baseball is coming, we believe, and there's no better place for it than right here."
The Loudoun County site, located near the intersection of Route 28 and the Dulles Toll Road, and RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. are considered the two front-runners in baseball's search to find a new home for the Expos.
With such a close location to Reston, the Loudoun County site is being backed by the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce and several key Reston business officials.
"It'll be great for the area," said Bill Adams, CEO of Reston Hospital Center. "It's not just great for baseball. It's so much more than that. It's a destination. It'll have a great impact on Reston."
Tracey White, executive director of the chamber, said having the Expos playing just down the Dulles Toll Road would bring an unprecedented amount of business to Reston's hotels, retail establishments, consultants, printers, restaurants and more.
"Bringing a major league entrepreneur flows down to everyone," she said. "It's an important piece of the economic engine and of the tourism engine as well."
BURKOT SAID he expects a decision to be made soon between Loudoun County, D.C. or neither in the near future because a funding plan approved by the General Assembly in 1997 expires at the end of the year, placing a looming deadline on baseball officials.
Northern Virginia makes more sense than D.C., he said, because the area is filled with families and would require no tax revenue to build the stadium.
"This is where the businesses are. This is where the families are," he said. "The focal center of family life and economic life is not downtown."
The General Assembly plan would use money raised at the ballpark to pay off a bond package for the stadium's funding. The district's plan would renovate RFK Stadium with funds generated from a tax levied on D.C. businesses.
The proposed location of the 42,500-seat stadium, which would open in 2008, was secured in June by a group of developers called Diamond Lake Associates. It would be the anchor of a Reston Town Center-style shopping and residential center featuring park grounds, a lake, condominiums, restaurants and a Little League ballpark.
"It would become a destination 365 days a year," Burkot said.
TWO YEARS AGO, the GRCC board of directors voted to support the Northern Virginia baseball effort because of its anticipated benefits for the Reston business market.
Including Reston's 3,000 businesses, ballpark proponents estimate there are 37,000 businesses within 10 miles of the Loudoun County location. They also point to the fast-growing region — Loudoun is the fastest-growing county in the nation — with more than 2 million people living within the ballpark's immediate area.
On days with a ball game, proponents said local hotels operators could expect an average of 1,000 extra rooms filled that night. An estimated 3 million fans would attend a game at the Loudoun County stadium a year.
"I believe it's going to happen," said Donna Miller, chairwoman of the GRCC. "Baseball is an American pastime. It's a wholesome activity for families. And it'll put Reston even more on the map."
OPPONENTS to bringing baseball to Northern Virginia have raised the concern that the consistently-snarled traffic would be made even worse by the millions of expected fans.
Burkot discounted that worry, saying research indicates an average of 3.5 fans ride in one car while traveling to baseball games, placing about 10,000 additional cars on the area's roads before and after games.
"They're not all going to be coming down the Dulles Toll Road," he said. "Really, it would not impact lives as much as people are saying it will."
Also, he said, traffic woes would be alleviated eventually once Metrorail service is expanded to Reston and Loudoun County. The orange line is slated to reach Wiehle Avenue by 2009. Bus service, he said, would shuttle baseball fans from the Reston Metro stop to the ballpark.