The prospects for high-level minor league baseball in Loudoun County hit another snag this week, when the Atlantic League released its 2014 schedule and there were no games for the proposed Loudoun Hounds team.
The Hounds are the longtime project of Bob Farren, chief executive of VIP Sports & Entertainment, which also wants to bring a minor league soccer team to a new 5,500-seat stadium in Ashburn. David D’Onofrio, spokesman for VIP, said Wednesday that he could not discuss the Hounds. Atlantic League President Peter Kirk confirmed the schedule but also declined to comment.
VIP acknowledged last month that its new stadium would not be ready for baseball’s opening day next year. In the meantime, Atlantic League teams from Texas to New Jersey had to begin scheduling their travel and logistics for next season. In addition, no other teams are lined up for entry to the Atlantic League next year, and adding Loudoun would have given the league nine teams, which would force one team to be inactive at all times.
Farren and VIP have been striving to bring baseball to Ashburn since at least 2009, when they first received approval from the Loudoun Board of Supervisors to build the stadium in the proposed Kincora development, across from Dulles Town Center. VIP began building up a fan base, selling merchandise, having annual “fan fests” and hiring a full staff for the Hounds.
When the Kincora project didn’t materialize, VIP shifted its stadium sights to the One Loudoun development a mile away, at Route 7 and the Loudoun County Parkway in Ashburn. The Loudoun board approved the relocation this year. The Hounds lined up Edelman Financial Services as a sponsor for the stadium, and ground was broken in June. VIP also hopes to place Virginia Cavalry FC, a team in the North American Soccer League, in the stadium, along with concerts and other large events.
But then, nothing. Although some preliminary site work appears to have been done, no major parts for a brick-and-steel baseball and soccer stadium are in evidence. Finally, in mid-September, VIP announced that the stadium would not be ready until the third quarter of next year. The stadium is being privately financed, at a reported cost of about $37 million, and D’Onofrio said the complexity of that process had caused the delay.
D’Onofrio told The Washington Post last month that the infrastructure for the stadium and parking lots were being installed and that the concrete seating bowl for the stadium was being pre-cast elsewhere. Pre-cast concrete is formed in large pieces and then transported to a building’s construction site, where the pieces are assembled. D’Onofrio said VIP anticipated the pre-cast bowl to be delivered soon and installed in the fall, with structural steel added afterward.
“We have spent significant dollars on the zoning, the architecture, the development drawings,” D’Onofrio said. “A tremendous amount of stuff is going on that people can’t see.”
VIP said it still planned on entering the Atlantic League and fielding its initial team next year, playing its first few months at another site. Kirk told The Post last month that such a plan would be acceptable to the Atlantic League, so long as VIP kept its focus on getting the stadium financed and built.
The Atlantic League considers itself roughly equal to the AAA level of minor league baseball, although none of its eight teams are affiliated with a major league organization. It uses players who have extensive minor league and, in some cases, major league experience, and many of its players have been signed straight to the majors. In August, former Oriole Felix Pie went directly from the Camden Riversharks to the starting lineup of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
But Atlantic League teams began releasing their schedules Tuesday, with no sign of the Hounds. League chief executive Frank Boulton told the Connecticut Post that the league hoped to expand, with the Hounds, in 2015, but Kirk would not confirm that.
D’Onofrio said he could not discuss the Hounds’ prospects for 2015, but of the Cavalry he said, “We are exploring all contingencies, with the goal of playing in 2014.”