To get to a night game at Virginia's Ballpark, the proposed home of a new baseball team near Dulles Airport in Loudoun County, an office worker in Washington would have to fight through 77 minutes of stop-and-go traffic, a whopping 13-minute savings from the slog up to Baltimore's Camden Yards. Can you spell non-starter?
I timed the haul to Virginia's leading stadium site on a typical late spring evening, and the trek out to the rock quarry where Route 28 meets the Dulles Toll Road convinced me of the folly of a suburban location with no Metro access, no alternative to driving and virtually no chance that anyone might pop over to the ballpark on a lark some evening.
What the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority has in mind is what Major League Baseball rejected after the disasters of those 1960s and '70s cookie-cutter stadiums that were located in suburbs and surrounded by seas of parking, a far cry from the urban entertainment zones that make a trip to the ballpark more than just watching the game.
Virginia's latest attempt to wrest the Montreal Expos away from their proper place in Washington is now a thickly forested swath of land near the Center for Innovative Technology and a townhouse development called Dulles Greene.
There don't appear to be any NIMBY issues at the site. "I bought this land in 1946, but it's all going," said Pinckney Lynch Sr., who owns and lives on five acres on the Fairfax side of the county line abutting the stadium site. "It's okay with me -- let them buy up the whole place. It's all gone."
Old oaks and long, crooked drives still lead to the handful of houses that are all that remain of a piece of rural Fairfax that has been transformed mostly into highway cloverleafs and apartment complexes. The developers of the proposed stadium complex envision 400 acres stocked with the ballpark, 5 million square feet of retail and thousands of units of housing. And the adjacent property, according to real estate agent Isabelle Williams, is slated to be turned into a "Lansdowne-style resort." Whereupon the site will be even more of a pain to get to.
Although residents of Dulles Greene never heard anything about a stadium when they moved into the complex, the folks I spoke to seemed open to the idea. "This area's kind of cut off," said Rick Vossburg, a courier dispatcher who has lived at Dulles Greene for two years. "It'd be good to develop and grow this area, and it would be exciting to have the team back."
But supporters of the District's bid for baseball say their research shows that a majority of Washington baseball fans -- including most of those from the Maryland suburbs and the District -- are unwilling to drive out to Dulles at the height of rush hour. The lesson of MCI Center is that sports fans will get out of their cars and use Metro -- 62 percent of those attending Wizards and Capitals home games use mass transit.
A downtown stadium -- such as the one being proposed to bridge the gap between the Maine Avenue-Anacostia River waterfront and the Mall -- would be smack between two Metro stations (L'Enfant Plaza and Waterfront-SEU). It also would rid the city of one of its worst design horrors: the concrete escarpment known as Benjamin Banneker Park, a scary no-man's land that dishonors its namesake and walls off downtown from the riverfront.
This site in Southwest is a golden opportunity for baseball to deliver on the only possible justification for public investment in a sports facility: a dramatic extension of Washington's downtown that would more than pay for itself in new tax revenue.
More important for the lords of baseball, the downtown site would easily draw locals and tourists alike, providing our team with the serendipitous customers that are essential to a daily game.
"Baseball is very reliant on walk-up, and Loudoun is not walk-up," said an owner of one of Washington's professional sports teams who refused to be named because he does not want to be accused of taking sides in the Virginia vs. Washington competition. "Downtown, you at least have a chance of attracting walk-up."
All that remains now is for Commissioner Bud Selig to stand up to Peter Angelos and say the word.
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