Northern Va. only site with funding approved

Updated: June 21, 2004, 5:15 PM ET
Associated Press

HERNDON, Va. -- A proposal by state and local officials to move the Montreal Expos to the nation's fastest-growing county features a public-private partnership that requires no new taxes to pay for the $442 million ballpark, proponents said Monday.

The proposal gives northern Virginia a leg up on the other regions bidding for the Major League Baseball franchise because it is the only site competing for the Expos with a fully financed funding plan on the books, said Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority Chairman Keith Frederick.

The only government action required would be site plan approval from the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. A majority of the board attended a rally Monday to express support for the plan.

"We have the public will to get it done," Frederick said. "We have a financing plan that is ready to go. We've got a great site. We are ready."

Northern Virginia is one of several cities and regions seeking to land the moribund Expos franchise, which is currently owned by Major League Baseball. Other bidders include Washington, D.C., Norfolk, Las Vegas, Portland, Ore., and Monterrey, Mexico.

The plan calls for building a 42,500-seat stadium near Dulles International Airport, on the outer edge of the Washington, D.C. suburbs. The ballpark would be part of a town square-style development that would include residential, retail and commercial space.

The developer proposing the plan -- a consortium of builders Beazer, Centex and Van Metre companies -- is willing to contribute $82 million in infrastructure costs, reducing the ballpark cost from $442 million to $360 million.

The Dulles site is one of five that has long been under consideration for a northern Virginia ballpark, but it had once been considered at the bottom of the list because of traffic problems. The fast-growing county already suffers from traffic that often approaches gridlock, and public transportation does not currently extend from Washington. In fact, Monday's rally to announce the plan was delayed by about 10 minutes because traffic slowed the arrival of some VIPs.

But politicians in Arlington County, a close-in suburb of Washington that had been home to several preferred sites, balked at a new stadium.

Loudoun County appears to be welcoming the possibility of a ballpark. Supporters cite transportation improvements under way and under consideration, including a possible extension of Metrorail to the site by 2012. The ballpark would be built in 2008, with games played at Washington's RFK Stadium until then.

Supporters now also cast the Dulles site's distance from Washington as a plus, saying it should assuage concerns of Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos that a D.C.-area team will hurt his franchise.

Financing for the stadium is already in place because the Virginia General Assembly in 1997 passed legislation permitting the state to pay two-thirds of the cost of a new stadium, using taxes generated by the ballpark to pay back the bonds.

Under previous financing plans, the taxing authority granted by the legislature was not quite enough to fully fund the state's share of construction, and a small tax like a hotel occupancy tax likely would have been required to put together a complete plan.

Now, with the willingness of developers to pay part of the costs, no new taxes will be needed.

In addition, the one-third cost to be borne by the club owner will no longer be required up front. Instead, the state will recoup the costs through annual rent of $10 million, significantly more than what would have been charged under the old plan.

Major League Baseball had been concerned that requiring an owner to make a large upfront payment for a ballpark would reduce the ability of any ownership group to pay a competitive price for the Expos.

William Collins III, a northern Virginia businessman who would be a leading contender for ownership of a northern Virginia franchise, would not speculate on how much he could pay for the Expos under the new financing plan.

"Major League Baseball knows what the value of a franchise is. They know what an ownership group can pay," he said.

Stadium Authority Director Gabe Paul said the financing plan would be solvent even if the franchise drew only 1 million fans a year.

"We could have the lowest attendance in baseball and this plan still works," Paul said.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press