Va. Ballpark Would Buck Close-In Trend
At 21 Miles From District, Loudoun Site Would Be League's Longest Drive
By Peter Whoriskey and Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 24, 2004; Page B04
The group trying to bring Major League Baseball to Loudoun is asking for the kind of sacrifice from Washington area fans that no other major league owner calls for: a trek to outlying suburbs.
The proposed ballpark site in Loudoun County is about 21 miles from downtown Washington, a trip that in rush hour can take more than an hour.
No team in baseball plays its home games so far away from its region's major downtown, according to a survey of teams.
"It's a silly place," said E.M. Risse, a longtime Virginia planner. "It's not the center of anything. It's at the edge. It could be the town center for Dar es Salaam."
But proponents of the Loudoun location -- being touted by a business group that wants to bring the Expos to Northern Virginia -- say the site has advantages that are political, financial and geographical.
Because it is farther from Baltimore than other more centrally located Washington sites, proponents say the Loudoun property would allow baseball's Baltimore Orioles more opportunity to continue to tap Washington area fans. Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos has objected to relocating a team to the Washington area for competitive reasons.
Moreover, Loudoun boosters say measuring its proximity to downtown Washington is not the right way to gauge the site's appeal. While fans from all across Washington have longed for a major league team, the investor group has promoted Northern Virginia as the core of its market.
"This is not far out," said Bill Collins, head of the investors group, speaking of the Loudoun site. "If you live here, this is the epicenter of this marketplace."
Jerry Burkot, an executive with the investors, pointed to marketing studies showing 1.2 million people living within 10 miles of the Diamond Lake site, and more than 2 million within 20 miles. There are also 650,000 jobs within 10 miles, and nearly a million within twice that distance.
"If you're going to call that the boondocks, I'll take that every time. That's an uninformed and biased opinion, calling it that," Burkot said. "This is the fastest-growing county in the nation."
"People say workers from D.C. would be going to the suburbs to go to the ballgame. They're going there anyway, because that's where a lot of them live," Burkot added. "That's really the premise. When you're relocating a business, you want to be near where people work and where people live. . . . If they're on the moon, that would be the place to be."
Still, the Virginia baseball group's decision to focus on a site so far from the metropolitan center stands in marked contrast to other efforts in Major League Baseball.
The Virginia baseball group is vying against similar groups in the District, Las Vegas, Portland, Ore., Monterrey, Mexico, and Norfolk, to purchase the Montreal Expos from Major League Baseball.
The Virginia group had originally sought to build on other sites, including a handful in Arlington County, close to downtown Washington. Boosters touted the majesty of a stadium with views of the Washington Monument on the horizon. But without a final public hearing on the matter, the Arlington County Board issued a letter rejecting the group's overtures.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company