A June 20 Metro article misstated the location of a proposed Major League Baseball stadium near Dulles International Airport. The site is just east, not just west, of the airport. (Published 6/25/04)
Some of the nation's biggest home builders are behind a plan to build a major league ballpark in a large development beside a rock quarry in Loudoun County.
The firms have proposed tapping revenue from a $4.5 billion housing and commercial development they would build around the stadium to entice Major League Baseball officials to move the financially ailing Montreal Expos to a new home just west of Dulles International Airport.
Dallas-based Centex Corp. and Atlanta's Beazer Homes USA, with combined revenue of more than $13 billion last year, along with Northern Virginia's Van Metre Cos., would develop 5,400 condominiums or apartments and more than 850 single-family homes as part of the 450-acre project called Diamond Lake, which would also call for 5 million square feet of office space, hotels, stores and restaurants.
The development group, prospective team owners and other Virginia baseball boosters are to reveal some details of their proposal at a rally tomorrow, complete with cheering Little Leaguers, business leaders and politicians.
But documents outlining their effort, some of which were submitted to Major League Baseball, leave little doubt about the Northern Virginia group's lobbying strategy as it seeks to outshine bids by Washington; Norfolk; Las Vegas; Portland, Ore.; and Monterrey, Mexico.
"Major League Baseball . . . will make more money at the Dulles site than any other site or market they are considering," according to a project briefing prepared by the development team.
The question of whether to follow recent ballpark trends and locate the Expos in an urban destination such as the District, or to build a "town center" attraction from scratch on the wealthy suburban fringe, is being debated by planners, transportation experts and die-hard partisans, who are either enchanted by -- or abhor -- the idea of bringing the American pastime to their neighborhoods.
The angst of Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, who doesn't want to see his revenue sapped by another team too close by, is also playing into Major League Baseball's decision, which could come next month.
Laurence E. Bensignor, a senior official with Van Metre, said he and his partners in Diamond Lake Associates can see change coming in how ballparks are built.
"This site has the potential to provide a new paradigm in where baseball stadiums are located and how urban-style town centers are developed," Bensignor said, adding that the Dulles site is at the crossroads of major transportation corridors in an affluent and dynamic region. "This can be high-octane fuel for the economic development engine of Loudoun County," he said.
William H. Lucy, a professor of suburban planning at the University of Virginia, said bringing the city to the suburbs via a walkable, multi-use project like Diamond Lake would represent progress in the nation's fastest-growing county, where disconnected developments are commonplace. But from the region's perspective, Dulles, with its lack of public transportation, could be the wrong place for a stadium, Lucy said, despite backers' expectations of a Metrorail extension to the airport.
"It shouldn't be at the end of a mass-transit connection that hasn't been built yet," Lucy said.
In an effort to cut through the muddle of such debates and competing bids, this proposal is focusing on the one thing that nearly everyone can understand: profit. It lists a series of private and public contributions that backers argue would translate into a higher sales price for the Expos and a richer team once it's settled in Loudoun.
The large-scale development would help baseball's bottom line by saving owners of a Virginia team millions in stadium construction costs, according to the proposal. The home builders would provide land for the ballpark for $1 and would create 10,000 parking spaces, for example.
The result, according to the state agency responsible for building the facility, is more stadium for less money.
"The plan envisions a $442 million project, reduced to $360 million due to shared infrastructure costs," according to the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, which would be responsible for having the stadium built. "It is not a 'dumbed-down' ballpark. Rather, befitting a ballpark in a major market, it includes 42,500 seats, 100 suites and 5,000 club seats."
Team owners would not contribute any money up front for construction; they would pay one-third of the final price tag in rent payments.
Another benefit for Major League Baseball, according to the proposal, is that the future team could be given millions in tax revenue collected under the auspices of the Stadium Authority.
The legislation creating the Stadium Authority allows it to collect sales tax on such things as hot dogs and team caps and on the incomes of players and others who work at the stadium. Those funds would be used to repay debt taken out to build the stadium.
And depending on the franchise's performance, team owners could also pocket hefty tax revenue left after the Stadium Authority covers its debt obligations, according to the financing plan offered to Major League Baseball.
"This means that rather than using all excess funds . . . to pay off bonds early, we will use 40 percent to benefit the team's owner," Gabe Paul Jr., the Stadium Authority's executive director, wrote in a letter last month to Major League Baseball officials.
Paul, who has been circumspect about the Stadium Authority's efforts in public statements, offered a detailed pitch for the Dulles stadium in the letter, which includes information about business arrangements and subtle jabs at Northern Virginia's competitors.
Paul asserted that the project's developers have made progress on the sensitive -- and potentially costly -- issue of site acquisition.
"Let me tell you in confidence that most of the land parcels comprising this stunning 450-acre site are now under the control of the development group, including the property where the ballpark will sit," Paul wrote.
A member of the development group would not discuss which landowners are -- or are not -- on board with the project. Representatives of two of the key parcels, including the centerpiece quarry touted as a future lake, did not return calls seeking comment.
Paul, a former Milwaukee Brewers vice president, also cited the prospect of involvement by hotel giant Marriott to buttress the Dulles bid's credentials. James M. Erlacher, a Marriott senior vice president, called the project "enticing" in a letter to the development group last month.
Paul also appealed to Major League Baseball officials to "separate fact from fiction and myth from reality" in combing through proposals. "While other jurisdictions may have plans to enact financing legislation, Virginia has had all the legislation we need in place since 1997," he wrote.
D.C. officials have said they are considering imposing up to $20 million a year in new taxes on businesses as part of a plan for a publicly funded ballpark in the city.