The Arlington County Board told Virginia baseball authorities last night to remove the county from consideration to be the new home of the Montreal Expos, jeopardizing efforts to bring a major league baseball team to the state.
In a letter whose contents were outlined last night to Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority Chairman Michael R. Frey, County Board Chairman Paul Ferguson (D) said that the potential benefits of having a baseball team in the county were not sufficient and that the issue had divided the community of 193,000 residents.
_____Stadium Site Survey_____
The District has narrowed its choices for a new baseball stadium. What's your favorite?
The District has been without major league baseball for more than 30 years. Look back at a visual history of the Washington Senators.
Ferguson said the board was especially concerned about a Pentagon City site coveted by Virginia baseball officials. An apartment, hotel and retail complex, which the county hopes to couple with a conference center, also is being considered, an option that the board says would yield more economic benefits for the county.
"If there was a general consensus that a Baseball Stadium was desired by Arlington residents, it might be possible to overlook the economic advantages of competing development opportunities," Ferguson wrote to Frey in the letter, which is dated today. "It is the judgment of the County Board that although there are numerous supporters of the baseball stadium concept, there are at least as many opposed with little hope of reaching consensus with the opposition."
The action represents the first time the all-Democratic County Board has taken a public stand on the stadium debate, which has roiled the community for nearly six months.
In an interview last night, Ferguson added that even if the county was presented with a request for a stadium site after a team and land were acquired, the board would not approve rezoning property for any of the three Arlington sites. The two other sites in the county that had been proposed are a second location in Pentagon City and one in Rosslyn.
Baseball stadium supporters said last night that they were disappointed with the board's action but that they would search for other sites for the 42,500-seat stadium they hope to build for the Expos. Major League Baseball, which owns the Expos, has said it hopes to relocate the team as soon as next year.
Frey said last night that the board's decision "certainly doesn't help" Virginia's quest for big-time baseball, "but there are still other sites that we can consider. We still have other options, and we'll have to sit down now and figure out what they are."
Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and baseball's leading advocate in the Virginia General Assembly, said that the stadium authority, as an entity of the state, can override a local vote, but it carries political risks.
The Arlington board's action, Callahan said, "is unsettling, to say the least. It's very shortsighted on the part of Arlington. It could put them on the map. Instead of being just a bedroom community for Washington, D.C., they could be home of a major league team."
Callahan added that the siting issue is an increasingly troubling one for Northern Virginia's bid for a team. "It's unsettling, to say the least," he said, noting that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has voted to oppose a proposed stadium site near Fort Belvoir's former Engineer Proving Ground in Springfield. The other proposed site for a stadium in Northern Virginia is near Dulles International Airport.
Tony Bullock, spokesman for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), said the Arlington board's action could be a boon for the District.
"The problem in Northern Virginia greatly enhances the District's position," Bullock said. "We have several viable sites."
A Major League Baseball official declined to comment extensively on the Arlington board's action.
"Until I take a look at it and talk to people who know a lot more about Virginia politics and law, I am not going to comment on the impact of that" letter, said Robert DuPuy, MLB president and chief operating officer and a member of the relocation committee.
In his letter to Frey, Ferguson points out five reasons for the board's opposition. He said, however, that the board was mostly concerned about the findings of two studies the county commissioned to determine the merits of a stadium on 11.3 acres in Pentagon City owned by the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation and the H Street Building Corp.
The county study found that Arlington would receive about $3 million in tax revenue if a stadium were built on that land, but would receive $10 million annually from the proposed $100 million conference center and hotel, apartment and retail complex. A separate study conducted by a Minneapolis-based consultant found that placing a conference center on the same parcel as a baseball stadium, as suggested by the stadium authority, "was not a desirable scenario" and that the county should pursue the hotel and apartment complex on its own. The letter, which is to be presented at a news conference this morning, was drafted by Ferguson and presented to board members at an executive meeting, where the board discussed the acquisition of land for a conference center. Officials said the meeting was protected by Virginia Freedom of Information Act rules, which allow public officials to discuss issues regarding land acquisition in private session.
The letter was written by Ferguson and signed by three other members of the five-person board: Walter Tejada, Chris Zimmerman and Barbara Favola. Member Jay Fisette did not sign the letter but had not opposed it.
News of the board's action was greeted with cautious optimism by anti-stadium forces.
"I obviously applaud this decision,"said Sarah Summerville, president of No Arlington Stadium. "But I would like to see the board discuss this publicly, not in closed session."
Staff writer Mark Asher contributed to this report.