Northern Virginia is a better market than the District for Major League Baseball and placing a team in Virginia would have a "negligible" impact on the Baltimore Orioles, state officials told baseball's relocation committee today.
Virginia's presentation followed meetings Thursday between the relocation committee and officials from D.C. and Portland, Ore., the other locations competing to acquire the Montreal Expos. Baseball is hoping to move the ailing franchise before the 2004 season begins.
Unlike the District and Portland, Virginia is asking Major League Baseball for a "conditional award" of the Expos, after which Virginia would seek additional public financing necessary to build a ballpark. Under that strategy, Virginia officials are emphasizing that Northern Virginia is the superior market for the team.
"The District's deteriorating. Look at the census figures," Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax), a member of the Virginia's baseball delegation, said after the presentation. "And Virginia's growing. . . . Portland doesn't have a big-enough market. I don't think, if anyone's looking to the future, they're going to put anything in the District of Columbia."
Tony Bullock, press secretary for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), responded: "I don't know what planet Mr. Callahan is from, but he should get his information straight before he says such outrageous things." The city's population, which declined for decades, has recently stabilized at about 572,000.
Baseball officials declined comment on the substance of the meeting. Robert Dupuy, baseball's chief operating officer, said: "We've got a vast amount of material that's been given to us over the past two days. We're going to analyze those materials and present a synthesis" to baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.
Dupuy said the committee, which consists of three major league owners and representatives of the baseball commissioner's office, would meet again within the next few weeks. Dupuy said that relocating the Expos by next year was "still the goal."
Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), who canceled plans to attend the presentation because of the war in Iraq, spoke to the committee by phone for about 15 minutes. In an interview, Warner said he believed Virginia's proposal was better than the District's and Portland's because it laid out concrete financing, some of which has been approved already by Virginia's General Assembly.
"I don't think either of those jurisdictions have any financing vehicle in place," Warner said. The District would still need council approval for its financing plan, but city officials have pledged to get it before Major League Baseball decides where the Expos will go.
Virginia has passed legislation to provide most of the public money needed to cover two-thirds of the cost of a ballpark, said state baseball officials.
The state officials long had estimated the revenue sources -- such as taxes on sales, income and tickets at a stadium -- at $10.5 million annually, but today they said far more could be generated from those sources. Callahan put the number at nearly $20 million, leaving only a few million dollars to be covered by a different funding source.
Virginia baseball boosters would not reveal many details of the plan presented to the committee. They would not disclose how much more public money would be needed to finance a stadium, how Virginia would raise that money or how much the stadium would cost. Nor would they reveal the possible sites.
Sources said two of the sites are near the Pentagon City Metro stop and others are near Dulles International Airport, on the Potomac River in Rosslyn and at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County. A source familiar with Virginia's plan said today that the stadium's cost was set at $380 million to $400 million.
Michael Frey, president of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, said that because of the war, officials canceled plans to hold a news conference Saturday to officially reveal the stadium plan. Authority spokesman Brian Hannigan said the group believed the information would get wider publicity if it were released after the war.
Frey said the delegation presented new information to the committee to show that a team in Northern Virginia would have almost no impact on Baltimore. The potential damage to the Orioles is a central issue in the relocation decision. Orioles officials contend that a team in the Washington area would cut their attendance and broadcast revenue.
Staff writers Mark Asher and R.H. Melton contributed to this report.