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Arlington Stands Firm on Ballpark

Governor Hints At Reopening Talks

By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 30, 2003; Page B01

Arlington leaders repeated their opposition to the idea of making the county home to a Major League Baseball stadium, even as Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) criticized their stance yesterday and more than 200 fans rallied at county offices last night in support of a ballpark.

Insisting that "our decision is final," Arlington County Board Chairman Paul Ferguson (D) said a majority of the board has no intention of budging from its opposition to a ballpark, despite pressure from Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority members who say the decision was premature.

Courtney Clark, 14, joins those who want to bring Major League Baseball to Arlington at a rally outside the county courthouse. (James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)

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On his monthly call-in show on WTOP radio yesterday, Warner said he was disappointed that Arlington leaders failed to follow what he described as their tradition of exhaustive site plan review and extensive public hearings before deciding against a stadium. He said he continued to hope that the process might not be over.

"I still believe that Northern Virginia's the best site," Warner said on the morning show. "I think there may be a way to reopen this door with Arlington." He did not elaborate on how that might happen, and his press office did not return a call seeking further comment.

But Arlington officials reiterated their decision, contained in a letter nearly two weeks ago to the state's stadium authority. They repeated that they are disappointed with Major League Baseball's slow process in selecting a site.

In addition, county officials reaffirmed yesterday their plans to build a conference center on Pentagon City land that the authority has coveted as a ballpark site. County officials again said that the proposed mixed-use development would reap more in tax revenue than a ballpark would, and they expressed continued concern over neighborhood opposition to a stadium.

Ferguson's letter to state baseball officials, signed by four of the five board members, asked that the county be removed from consideration. However, stadium authority leaders say they still hope to build a stadium in Arlington.

Northern Virginia is competing with the District and Portland, Ore., to be the new home of the Montreal Expos, which Major League Baseball could relocate as soon as next year.

Yesterday, however, several board members said that it was time for the county to move on.

"The stadium authority has nothing -- no team, no land and no conditional award," said Vice Chairman Barbara A. Favola (D), adding that an official stadium application was never submitted to the County Board so no formal action could be taken on the ballpark. "There's nothing else to discuss."

Still, supporters of a ballpark staged a spirited evening rally as the board met for the last time before its summer recess. Holding up signs proclaiming, "We want baseball and we vote" and "There's more democracy in Iraq than there is in Arlington," baseball fans said they are angry at the board's decision and hope that, if the state is awarded a team, county leaders might be convinced to change their minds.

Ballpark fans sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and "The Star-Spangled Banner" and unveiled a new mascot, which they dubbed the "NIMBY Chicken," a reference to the popular performer at baseball games and a dig at what they say is the not-in-my-backyard sentiment that they believe the county board gave in to with its stance.

"It was like they took it out of our hands," said Liz Clark, who was dressed in an umpire's uniform last night, referring to the county's decision. "They didn't do it for the people."

Jay Fisette (D), the one board member who did not sign the letter to the stadium authority, was sympathetic to many stadium supporters' concerns. He also said the letter was premature.

"It was a process question for me," Fisette said in an interview last night. "The process had not run its course."

Fisette, who said he has not decided whether a stadium would be good for the county, acknowledged that his colleagues are unlikely to change their minds.

Many county residents have praised the board members for their decision.

"This is what we were looking for -- a decision that showed that this was impossible for Arlington to support," said Francis Andrews, who said he has opposed the project since it was unveiled. "It may have taken them a little bit, but they finally made the right choice."

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