Here was the idyllic scene evoked yesterday by backers of major league baseball in Northern Virginia:
One bright day in a few years, 50,000 baseball fans will grab their caps, pound their mitts and stream into a classic-style ballpark in Arlington County, welcoming professional baseball to the state for the first time.
Fans will settle into their seats, perhaps in one of 110 luxury suites or on an outfield berm, dazzled by how close they are to the field and the beauty of a home run soaring toward the Potomac River and the prized collection of monuments on the Mall.
On the eve of the 2003 baseball season, the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority presented its first public offering of what baseball in the region would look like if Northern Virginia won a competition against the District and Portland, Ore., to land the Montreal Expos.
At a news conference, the Virginia officials displayed crisp renderings of five potential sites: Rosslyn, near the River Place apartment complex; Dulles, just east of the airport next to the Center for Innovative Technology; Springfield, on surplus Army land at Fort Belvoir; Pentagon City, at the Costco complex next to the shopping mall; and another Pentagon City location a few blocks along Army Navy Drive.
Stadium backers and baseball officials have said they prefer one of the two Arlington locations with views of the Mall. Most of yesterday's two-hour news conference focused on those sites, which had been culled from a list of about four dozen.
Most new major league parks have signature touches -- a pool by the outfield fence, for example. The one planned for Virginia's ballpark would be an expansive green space beyond the playing field where about 8,000 fans could watch the game while picnicking or strolling through a memorial garden. The park would be open to the community on days without games, and a small field, where local youth tournaments would be held, would be tucked into the greenery.
That element is meant to connect the professional ballfield to the neighborhood park atmosphere out of which the sport grew, something that is "almost completely absent from major league baseball," said Bryan Trubey, an architect with HKS, the Dallas-based firm that designed the stadium. Trubey said the red brick exterior, roof and a 125-foot clock tower at the main gate and other designs were meant to evoke classic Virginia structures.
The stadium would include about 25,000 square feet of retail and entertainment space and, if located in Arlington, would likely connect to a planned county conference center. Stadium models yesterday showed a conference center connecting off either foul line with a glass-covered walkway in between.
Several people in the audience peppered stadium authority officials about community opposition to all five sites, while about three dozen protesters picketed outside the Crystal City hotel where the presentation was made.
"If the public says they don't want baseball, then it won't come here," said Gabe Paul Jr., executive director of the stadium authority.
Response in Arlington to the stadium plans was mixed. While many residents have talked up the potential benefits of a stadium, others have tried to derail stadium plans, especially in the Crystal City area, where a similar proposal was considered in 1996.
"I challenge anyone to tell me what the true benefits for Arlington are," said Sarah Summerville, the director of Arlingtonians for Baseball in D.C., a group that has rallied to stop the ballpark's construction.
But Jasmine Fobian, 25, said one of the Pentagon City designs looked "snazzy." She added, "I'd be for it and probably wouldn't mind sitting in traffic to go to a game, something that I would enjoy."
Yesterday, the stadium authority also made public the financing plan it presented to Major League Baseball during a meeting March 21 in Phoenix. The plan calls for raising $285 million in taxpayer money that would go toward building the $400 million stadium. About $20 million in annual revenue would be required to finance the public portion of the funding package. The public funding would account for 68 percent to 75 percent of the total package, in the form of 30-year bonds.
The annual bond payments would be covered by $8.6 million a year raised from sales and income taxes at the stadium, including a tax on the salaries of players and team officials. Another $8.4 million would be generated yearly from an admission tax. These provisions already have been approved by the Virginia General Assembly.
The remaining portion of the annual debt payment would come from $1.6 million raised from renting retail space at the stadium, $425,000 from renting the ballpark out for other events and $1.5 million from a regional tax on hotel rooms in Fairfax and Arlington counties and Alexandria. The hotel tax would have to be approved by local governments and the General Assembly.
A portion of the revenue raised by the hotel tax, which is expected to exceed the $1.5 million needed for stadium funding, would go to the community in which the stadium is built.
Arlington County Board Chairman Paul Ferguson (D) has said that the county would consider a hotel tax if Major League Baseball issued a "conditional" approval of moving the Expos and that building a stadium in the county could come only after extensive discussions with neighborhood residents.
Shown a copy of the architects' plans yesterday, Ferguson said: "There are still significant hurdles for the Arlington community, including land costs and neighborhood concerns. However, there's no doubt that the Arlington sites would provide the best views of Washington and best utilization of public transportation."
Staff writer Timothy Dwyer contributed to this report.