The owner of the Potomac Cannons minor league baseball team has proposed building a $250 million stadium and apartment complex next to the Dunn Loring Metro station, a plan that would move the franchise to Fairfax after almost two decades in Prince William.
Arthur L. Silber wants to build an 8,000-seat stadium, 750 cooperative apartments and an 11-story office tower atop the Metro parking lot at Dunn Loring. The 15-acre Merrifield complex would include 4,500 parking spaces above and below ground, and would double the number of spots available for commuters. It would open in the spring of 2004.
The unusual design would ring most of the stadium with high-rise apartments, which would shelter all seats except the outfield bleachers, Silber said. The field would remain open to the elements.
Silber bills the proposal as a profitable way to bring professional baseball to Fairfax County and, with a Metro station nearby, alleviate traffic congestion. The retired Baltimore banker also said the plan would not require any taxpayer money; it would pay for itself through condominium sales, retail tenants and commercial leases, he said.
"Right now, everyone is talking about smart growth, and this is the concept of smart urban growth," Silber said. "The overwhelming concern that people have is the traffic issue. We're trying to show them that this project will reduce traffic by taking many cars off the roadway."
Fairfax officials, wary of drawing the wrath of growth-weary residents, are taking a cautious approach, and opinions within the Merrifield area are divided. Officials at Metro--which owns the land that Silber wants to lease--have met with Silber's engineers but have not taken a position.
Katherine K. Hanley (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said she would support the project only if the surrounding community showed it was in favor of it. The idea would require zoning changes and other approvals from supervisors.
"It's a small stadium," she said. "If the surrounding community is interested in having that facility there, that's a strong recommendation for it. It certainly is worth looking into."
Silber presented his plan in September to a task force working on a master plan for Merrifield. Bob Mortensen, a landscape architect who chairs the committee, said the idea should be seriously considered as a way to jump-start development in the Dunn Loring area.
"This is just one proposal, but I've got to tell you, it's an intriguing one," Mortensen said.
Silber announced more than two years ago that he planned to move his team to Fairfax from Prince William, where supervisors refused to spend $20 million in public money for a $150 million stadium and retail complex on the Cherry Hill peninsula just north of Quantico. Silber renamed the team, formerly the Prince William Cannons, in anticipation of such a move.
But the team has continued to play at Pfitzner Stadium, a smaller county-owned facility near Lake Ridge that Silber has called an outdated "Tinkertoy." Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton (R-At Large) said county officials are debating what to do with the stadium. "The county is committed to trying to find a way to ensure that the Cannons remain in Prince William County," he said. "We need to do some work out there no matter what. The issue is, how much do we go beyond that" to keep minor league baseball.
Fairfax Supervisor Gerald E. Connolly (D-Providence), who represents Merrifield on the county board, said concerns over traffic, noise and other issues would have to be addressed before he would support a new stadium.
Silber said the complex would include 30,000 square feet of retail shops for residents and baseball fans, while the co-op apartments--half of them overlooking the ballpark--would sell for as much as $250 a square foot.
He argued that a stadium would cause little disruption to commuters, since all 70 of the team's home games are played at night.
"The difference in the impact on the community between a minor league baseball game and a major league ballpark is the difference between a high school football game and the Redskins," Silber said. "But I'm not about to get into a situation where we have incredible opposition and we're not wanted. I'm not interested in getting into a fight. I just want a bigger ballpark."
Staff writers Michael D. Shear and Lisa Rein contributed to this report.