Baseball Session Draws Hundreds

Baseball Session Draws Hundreds

First of three forums brings crowds of supporters and opponents.

There could have been an actual baseball game taking place inside Thomas Jefferson Community Center Monday night, based on the cheers and boos coming from the crowd.

Instead, the audience was fired up by the first of three public information sessions held by the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, covering proposed sites for a baseball stadium in Northern Virginia. Debate over a possible baseball stadium in Arlington heated up as hundreds of opponents and supporters came out Monday night, with the audience about evenly split between pro and con.

Debate often touched on financing plans, but supporters and opponents rarely found common ground. ?The problem is, you have all these NIMBYs who don?t understand what it?s all about,? said Jerry Foster, who drove from his home in Herndon to attend the meeting.

Bringing a Major League Baseball team to the area is about more than dollars and cents, he said. ?I used to go on dates to RFK [to see the Washington Senators play], and I miss that,? said Foster. ?My kids missed all that.?

Monday?s meeting was the first of three sessions where stadium authority representatives will present information on plans to bring the Montreal Expos to a new home in Northern Virginia. Five sites are being considered, including three in Arlington: two in Pentagon City, one in Rosslyn.

Panelists continued to say they have not identified a preferred site from among the five finalists. But most of the information focused on the Cafritz site in Pentagon City, an 11.8-acre site defined by Army-Navy Drive, Fern Street, Eads Street and 12th Street South.

Most of the stadium authority studies were based on that site.

Presentations were made by a panel consisting of representatives from the Stadium Authority and companies associated with the authority, and the Virginia Baseball Club, the ownership group that has been trying to buy a Major League team for the past decade.

PRESENTATIONS FOCUSED on persuading residents that a stadium would not hurt quality of life in the county. For instance, neighbors shouldn?t worry about noise or light from the stadium, said Joseph Pobiner, director of planning for HKS, Inc., architects for the proposed stadium.

Lighting systems focus energy more efficiently than older systems did, and the building is designed to funnel sound toward I-395 and away from nearby homes and businesses, said Pobiner.

During games, the stadium would increase noise levels within a 300-foot radius by about three to five decibels. Beyond that radius, highway noise would be louder than noise from the stadium, he said. Paul promised the stadium would not be used for large rock concerts as some residents have feared.

Crystal City resident Lulu Lyle wasn?t surprised the presentation emphasized quality of life issues. ?I know they?re here to sell it,? she said. But she also wasn?t persuaded. Panelists failed to convince her that the general taxpayer wouldn?t foot the bill for a stadium.

?This is a public/private partnership where the public pays and the private reaps the benefits,? said local resident Annabelle Fisher, who opposes a stadium that would be built using any tax revenue.

The Virginia Baseball Club would contribute one-third of the cost. Paul and William Collins, chairman and CEO of the Virginia Baseball Club, said the remaining funds will come almost exclusively from revenue generated at the stadium or as a result of the stadium. Taxes on rental cars, hotels and player salaries, for instance, would generate part of that revenue, said Paul.

TRAFFIC AND PARKING proved to be another source of mistrust. ?We?ve identified more than enough parking for the event as we see it now,? said David Mahoney, a vice president for the Dewberry Companies.

?I think they?re lying,? said Deb Davis, a long-time resident of Pentagon City. ?There is no parking.?

Brian Hannigan, spokesperson for the Stadium Authority, said objections like that don?t bother him. ?Many of the objections are not fact-based, and we were happy to be able to address those,? he said after the forum.

Paul stressed to audience members that the session was intended to provide information to the public, not to be a forum for residents to provide input on topics like site selection.

That message came through loud and clear to some stadium opponents who said panel members should have listened to residents? concerns. ?I really do think they treated the audience as though it?s a done deal,? said Margaret Gaffen, a South Arlington resident.

Paul said there would be time later for citizen input to the Authority and to county board members, who would have to approve site plans for stadium construction.