On Monday, Major League Baseball had its opening day. Over the weekend, though, local residents and county officials took the field against stadium backers, hoping to bring the national pastime back to the Capitol region.
On Saturday, March 29, representatives of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority announced five potential sites for a stadium, along with preliminary design plans and financing projections. Three of the locations are in Arlington ? two in Pentagon City and one in Rosslyn. Investors hope to make the stadium the new home for the Montreal Expos within the next three years.
?You?re starting to see some of the things that have excited us so much,? said Michael Frey, VBSA chairman.
But outside the press conference, there were Crystal City residents who weren?t so thrilled by the plans. ?We love our neighborhood? and we think this would ruin it,? said Judy King, one of about 50 picketers against building a stadium in Arlington.
?I don?t think Arlington has the infrastructure to support 40,000 people coming in and going out at the same time,? said Anne Fisher, another protester.
Stadium Authority officials plan to begin a campaign ?almost immediately? to reach out to local residents and try to convince them that the stadium plan will work.
?A lot of the [oppenents?] fears are based on the last generation of ballparks,? said Frey. Monolithic ballparks like Veteran?s Stadium in Philadelphia were poorly designed and brought traffic congestion, noise and light pollution. But current designs minimize those effects, stadium supporters say.
Improvements in stadium design will be one of the key factors in a battle for public support that will ultimately make or break the efforts to draw baseball to Virginia. ?If the public says that they don?t want baseball, then it won?t come here,? said Gabe Paul Jr., VBSA?s executive director.
STADIUM COSTS VARY according to site, ranging from the cheapest location, the Engineer Proving Grounds in Springfield ? estimated to cost $378.6 million ? to the Rosslyn location, at an estimated cost of $609.5 million.
One-third of the cost would come from The Virginia Baseball Club, LP, a group of private investors headed by William Collins, a Virginia telecommunications executive and a former Milwaukee Brewer. The Stadium Authority would finance the rest.
Revenue generated by the stadium over the next 30 years would pay for construction costs, said Ronald Tillett, managing director of investment firm Morgan Keegan & Company, which conducted financial studies on the stadium proposal for VBSA. So taxpayers wouldn?t have to pay for stadium construction.
However, that plan is based on bonds issued by the Stadium Authority, but backed by the Commonwealth of Virginia. So if baseball doesn?t meet earnings projections, state taxpayers could end up paying off the bonds.
WHETHER OR NOT taxpayers foot the bill isn?t the only question, Arlington officials said.
County Board member Chris Zimmerman remains skeptical about a stadium. ?We don?t gain anything,? he said.
Major League Baseball can help make a name for an underdeveloped area, he said, but that?s not Arlington?s problem. ?Travel and tourism is being hurt by 9/11, not because people can?t find Arlington on the map,? he said. ?We?re on the map that we need to be on.?
Baseball holds a romantic sway on the imaginations of many Americans, and understandably so, said County Manager Ron Carlee. ?When you listen to the presentations, you can almost smell the hotdogs. But in the end it really is a matter of economics,? he said. ?It?s going to be a challenge to make the numbers work.?
Retail and residential development could generate more money for the local economy than a stadium, Carlee said. Stadium Authority representatives will have to convince county staff and board members that a ballpark would bring something extra.
Frey said county officials are unrealistic if they think a major sports franchise wouldn?t improve the local economy and reputation. ?With all due respect, [the Pentagon City] site has been underutilized for a long time,? he said.
It?s also important to look beyond the economics, said Paul. ?Equally important is the quality of life that baseball brings to a community,? he said.
VIRGINIA?S STADIUM will be a ?new classic American ballpark,? said Bryan Trubey, the head architect for HKS, Inc., which designed the proposed stadium.
The façade would be constructed in Virginia?s traditional Georgian architectural style, Trubey said, and beyond the outfield wall, a grassy seating area would give fans the feeling that they are picnicking at a park, as spectators did in the early days of baseball.
Although officials stressed that all five sites are being considered, some of the ballpark?s design features were tailored to Arlington, including possibly of sharing space with a high-tech conference center.
Entrances to the stadium would be pedestrian friendly, which VBSA officials hope will help minimize traffic in surrounding neighborhoods on game days. Frey expects about 40 percent of visitors to an Arlington stadium to walk from nearby Metro stations rather than drive to games.
Neighbors also won?t have to worry about noise and light pollution, or obstructed views of the District. Architects said they designed the park to channel noise away from nearby residential areas. The park would be partially recessed, with the playing field and first 20 rows of seats below street-level. That means the stadium?s high-tech lighting system won?t be shining in anyone?s window, officials said.
OFFICIALS HAVE TIME to think it over. The Stadium Authority will not choose a site until Major League Baseball grants a conditional relocation approval for the Expos, and it?s still uncertain when or even if that will happen.
?It?s like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown,? said Paul Ferguson, chair of the county board. Major League Baseball has dangled the possibility of a team time and again since Ferguson took office in 1996, he said, and plans have fallen through time and again.
?First of all, there is no team that?s been awarded,? he said. ?That?s what?s so hard for me?there?s not an application before us.?
For the present, Ferguson is trying to stay neutral on the possible stadium. Despite efforts by state and national elected officials to bring baseball to Virginia, Ferguson said doesn?t feel political pressure to approve a stadium.
?There is a strong bipartisan delegation effort leading this, and certainly as a board member I have friends that are on both sides of the issue,? he said. ?None of them seem to be happy with me.?