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Disappointed, Some in Va. Blame Warner for Loss

By Michael Laris and Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 30, 2004; Page A14

Virginia Baseball Club executives blamed Gov. Mark R. Warner and other state officials yesterday for their failure to support state financing for a baseball stadium, thereby killing Virginia's chances of getting a major league team.

After yesterday's triumphant baseball announcement by the District, club executive Jerry Burkot said the unwillingness of Warner (D) to back a long-standing ballpark financing plan soured Major League Baseball officials on Virginia's bid.

"Virginia has lost the most significant economic opportunity in a decade," said William Collins III, head of Virginia Baseball Club. (Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)

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"Baseball wanted to see the governor out front on this issue," Burkot said, adding that Virginia's chief executive did not show the leadership of D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams. "Had the governor said 'yes' . . . we as a partnership believe baseball would have accepted Virginia's bid."

Warner said he was disappointed in the outcome but had no regrets about the state's aggressive negotiating or the deal the state offered baseball.

"I desperately wanted baseball to come to Northern Virginia, and I've worked for years on it," Warner said yesterday. "But you've also got to make a good deal, and the deal the District offered was much richer for the baseball owners."

By the time Williams (D) appeared wearing a red Washington cap at the launch of the city's festivities, William L. Collins III, whose Virginia Baseball Club spent more than $13 million trying to bring a team to the state, had left the confines of his office for a sunny sojourn to the golf course, according to his office.

It was the realists vs. the diehards in Virginia yesterday as business leaders and officials sought to absorb the end of their expensive, highly personal and ultimately fruitless quest to lure a team to the state.

Keith Frederick, chairman of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, said he got the call from baseball's executive vice president, John McHale Jr.

"He said: 'It was nice working with you. You guys tried. We're going to D.C.' " Frederick said. "It was not the exact outcome we were working for, but it happened, and we're happy. . . . Let's get on with it, and let's support the team."

For more than a decade, Collins and other Virginia boosters had flown to Arizona and Florida and Illinois and Texas, talking up the region and schmoozing with league owners. They had pushed for a site with monument views in Arlington, Major League Baseball's preference. When that failed, they ran with a proposal for a suburban ballpark by Dulles International Airport. They acknowledged that their efforts were seen by some as an obsession but said they were in it for their love of the game and for the region's kids.

In the end, the kids got their game -- or at least a commitment, pending some District politicking, lawyering and passage of the city's deal -- just not where the Virginia boosters had hoped. Many Virginians, starting with Warner, said they were pleased that a team was coming to Washington if it couldn't come to Virginia.

"I think it will benefit the overall national capital area," Warner said.

In a statement last evening, Collins said, "Virginia has lost the most significant economic opportunity in a decade." Reached at his Great Falls home last night, Collins declined to comment further.

Laurence E. Bensignor, a principle at Van Metre Cos. who partnered with the authority on the proposed Diamond Lake ballpark development in Loudoun County, said he believed baseball chose Washington for the simple reason that that's where it wanted to be.

"We proposed a new paradigm, but I've always recognized baseball's roots are in cities, and we've always appreciated the allure of being in the nation's capital," Bensignor said, adding that his development group is pushing ahead with plans for a residential and commercial development called Diamond Lake at the Dulles site. "This site cries out to be a town center," he said.

Gabe Paul Jr., the baseball stadium authority's executive director, said the formal Washington announcement marked "a great day for baseball and for everyone in Washington, Northern Virginia and the rest of the region."

Authority spokesman Brian Hannigan would not address the question of whether Virginia had fumbled its chance of nabbing a team, as some critics have alleged.

"Our only interest today is to express our great pleasure" at baseball's return to the region, he said.

Warner added that "if things don't work out in the District, we still stand ready with an alternative financing plan in Virginia."

Staff writer Michael Shear contributed to this report.

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