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Loudoun Still in Running?

Washington, D.C. may appear to be the new venue for the Montreal Expos, but it’s not over until it’s over.

<bt>By all press accounts, Washington, D.C. appears to be the new venue for the Montreal Expos, but negotiations were still ongoing Tuesday to bring the team to Northern Virginia’s home plate.

“It’s not over until it’s over,” said Bruce Tulloch, vice-chairman of the Board of Supervisors. “There are options on the table. We have two totally different products.”

Ellen Qualls, the governor’s press secretary, said Monday that Gov. Mark Warner has presented Major League Baseball with a financial proposal that would not rely on moral obligation bonds. He would not, however, disclose the details. The Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority had recommended using the state’s “moral obligation” bonds to finance a ball park. The authority would benefit from Virginia’s good credit, but the financing would open the Commonwealth to make debt service payments in case of default.

“The governor has been lobbying long and hard for baseball to come to Virginia,” Qualls said. “He made the case for an alternative that didn’t rely on the moral obligation bonds, because they faced rough sledding with the Senate finance chair and Speaker of the House who have oppose the idea.”

John Bennett, Virginia’s secretary of finance, said he had reviewed several components of the authority’s financial package involving moral obligation bonds, but they were not risk free. The Commonwealth has used that type of funding only on three occasions. “It would have to require ‘no risk’ for the Commonwealth to work,” he said. “Ultimately, it would require the General Assembly to enact a statute.”

Virginia and Washington, D.C. are trying to persuade Major League Baseball to let them build stadiums in their jurisdictions. Several financing proposals have surfaced in recent weeks. The Virginia Baseball Authority and Diamond Lake Associates pitched a recommendation this summer to build the ballpark near the Washington Dulles International Airport.

Brian Hannigan, spokesman for the authority, said investors are not deterred by the noise D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams is making about the team moving to Washington. “We remain convinced that the Northern Virginia location is the best possible option to return Virginia to America’s national pastime,” he said.

Tulloch agreed. “We have the demographics and statistics to show we can support a Major League Baseball stadium,” he said. Even though Diamond Lake cut back its original plan to develop 400 acres surrounding the stadium to 160 acres, it remains economically viable, he said.

Scott York, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said the Authority wanted to use Loudoun County’s AAA rating as “moral obligation.” “They asked us to take a look at it, and we told them we could not entertain that. We just don’t have the ability to do that right now given our debt capacity. We’re building school after school after school.”

York said he still supports the idea of having the Virginia Expos, but building offices in place of the stadium also would be a winning proposition “I don’t think it’ll be any more of an economic enhancement than what could be developed on that property now,” he said. “What you have to do is sit down and look at this.”

Baseball potentially could get transit out to Dulles sooner than office development, he added.

Tulloch said the stadium, like any project, has opponents, but there would be more area support if Virginia were trying to lure a $4 million corporation. “That’s exactly what we have here,” he said.

Baseball enthusiasts say they are tired of the waiting game. York said everyone is ready for an answer. “I simply hope that Major League announces this week where they are going, and I hope it is to the Dulles site,” he said.