BLACKSBURG, VA. -- Publicity surrounding a controversial land swap by Virginia Tech has school administrators worried that lawmakers will withhold money from the university as it seeks to develop its new land holdings.

"The publicity has cost us," said William Van Dresser, vice president for administration and operations.

The school's vice president for finance agreed.

"This will present a major problem for us over the next {four to six years} for funding," Minnis Ridenour said. "It is going to cost us millions of dollars."

The school will put off asking the General Assembly for money to develop nearly 1,800 acres it picked up in the Dec. 31 swap, officials said.

"There's no question in my mind," Ridenour said. "We will not be able to go forward and ask for the development costs for this property because it's become such an issue."

Critics have said Virginia Tech made a bad deal when it turned over valuable land to William B. Matthews, a former Tech associate athletic director, and J.D. Nicewonder, a Tech benefactor.

But Tech officials blame the news coverage the swap received for their problems.

"People think we got snookered, and we didn't get snookered," said Lon Savage, executive assistant to university President William E. Lavery.

The university received 1,679 acres of agricultural land along the New River, then later bought an additional 95 acres as part of the deal under which it gave up 257 acres of prime development parcels.

The Roanoke Times & World-News reported on May 31 that a shopping center developer had bought an option to buy 40 acres of the former Tech property for $2.7 million. The land is near the site of a major mall being built in the New River area.

The acreage was part of a 230-acre horticulture farm that Tech said had been appraised at $2.3 million.

The apparent windfall for the developers has created the impression that "this whole thing is tainted," Ridenour said. That impression will be on lawmakers' minds when Tech asks for money to work on the new land, he said.

"The question I will get asked is . . . 'Why did you let this happen? Why did you give that property away? If you hadn't given it away, you'd have enough money now to develop this new property.' "

Tech officials who anticipate problems getting state funding for their development said they will start by asking Gov. Gerald L. Baliles to include $500,000 in his proposed budget to be presented to the General Assembly in January.

In the meantime, Tech officials are going to try to get agricultural interests to support development of the new acreage.