The Potomac Cannons and Prince William County officials recently agreed to split the costs of a new $10 million stadium for the Class A minor league baseball team.

The deal would keep the Cannons, the only professional baseball team in Northern Virginia, in Prince William for at least 20 years.

Team owner Art Silber said the new stadium would be a "mini major-league ballpark," with 6,500 seats and 14 luxury boxes. Construction could begin early next year for a 2004 baseball season opening. Team officials and players have complained that the current facility, 19-year-old Pfitzner Stadium, is cramped, rusting, even "depressing."

"Prince William County has really stepped forward, saying they want to keep professional baseball in the community," Silber said. "I'm very excited about the opportunity to work there."

Under the memorandum of understanding approved by the Board of County Supervisors, Pfitzner Stadium would be used for community recreation. Current plans call for the new stadium to be built next to Pfitzner, at the McCoart Administration Complex in the middle of the county. The resolution includes some flexibility, allowing a new stadium to be built at another location.

"We were aware that other communities were vying for the Cannons, and we're pleased we were able to come to an agreement," said board Chairman Sean T. Connaughton (R-At Large). "If you've ever been to a Cannons game, it's a lot of young families enjoying an experience that would otherwise be out of reach when compared with the expense and distance of an Orioles game."

Under the proposed deal -- a final contract still has to be negotiated -- the team would pay for half the new stadium's debt service. The team would then keep all revenue over that amount, Connaughton said. The agreement calls for a 20-year lease, with the option of four five-year extensions.

The stadium would be owned by the Prince William Park Authority, and the county would have a veto over naming rights.

Silber had been searching for a new home for at least six years. In 1996, county officials rejected his plan to build a stadium, convention center and housing on Cherry Hill Peninsula. Last June, Fairfax County officials rejected his effort to build an 8,000-seat minor league ballpark, office tower and condominium complex near the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station.

He said the new stadium would cost far less than other minor league facilities, which cost as much as $20 million with all the trimmings.

"We've tried to be very careful here," Silber said, adding that the new stadium would still be a huge improvement over Pfitzner. "It will be attractive and have its own contemporary feel to it."

He said the stadium deal improves the possibility that the Cannons will maintain their relationship with the St. Louis Cardinals. That contract expires at the end of this season.

"We have been advising the Cardinals all along about our negotiations with the county," Silber said. "Without the promise of new ballpark, it would probably be difficult for them to re-sign."

League officials and many players have complained that 19-year-old Pfitzner Stadium, home of the Class A Potomac Cannons, is cramped and "depressing."