Proponents of bringing Major League Baseball to Virginia have backed away from plans for a 450-acre ballpark development in Loudoun County and are instead pushing a dramatically scaled-back version of their Diamond Lake project on a fraction of the land and without the proposed lake.
The move represents a retreat from the expansive plan presented to baseball officials in May, which called for relocating the Montreal Expos to Northern Virginia as part of a large, baseball-themed "new town" intended to generate business, reduce stadium construction costs and bring cachet to a sports complex sandwiched between Dulles International Airport and an industrial zone.
Gabe Paul Jr., executive director of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority -- which would be responsible for financing and building the stadium -- had given baseball officials assurances that "most of the land parcels comprising this stunning 450-acre site" was controlled by project developers.
But yesterday, Paul bowed to the reality that the developer, Diamond Lake Associates, had not been able to reach agreement with the owner of the site's biggest chunk of land, Chantilly Crushed Stone, which controls more than 220 acres, including the quarry pit that was to be filled to create the development's lakefront ambiance.
"At the present time, we are moving on without the [Chantilly Crushed Stone] property," Paul said.
Authority officials and the project's developer would not give the size of their refashioned proposal. But losing the quarry land cuts the acreage by about half, and tax records and interviews indicate that Diamond Lake could control less still.
The size of the project is important because it goes to the overall vision being offered to Major League Baseball and state and local officials and the experience offered to would-be visitors to the Loudoun ballpark.
According to its proponents, one of the selling points for the Dulles site, about 21 miles west of Washington, has been the promise of a destination that offered far more than baseball.
Diamond Lake Associates has purchased a number of smaller parcels, and the developer said it has more than enough land to build a stadium, which it said requires 12 acres. The developer has made progress toward a deal with another major landowner, Samir Kawar, an investor who owns 75 prime acres.
If there is a deal with Kawar, Diamond Lake Associates would control about a third of the original 450-acre site in one contiguous piece of land. It might also own other parcels cut off by the centrally located quarry site.
It remains unclear how the reconfigured Diamond Lake plan will affect Virginia's bid for a team.
The broader development was cited as a regional economic growth engine that would benefit the future owners of a Major League team by helping to draw in a hefty fan base. The project's developer has also pledged to help pay for road and other projects needed for a stadium.
A top Major League Baseball official, who commented on condition of anonymity, was noncommittal yesterday on how the change could alter the competition for a team among Washington and other cities.
"It would only have an impact on the stadium project if it affected the ballpark, parking or related revenues," the official said.
Paul said the stadium financing plan, which counts on the developer to underwrite some of the related costs of the ballpark, will still work.
"We are satisfied the developers can share infrastructure expenses with us so we can meet our budget, even with a project that's initially less than 450 acres," Paul said, adding he is still hopeful that the full 450-acre vision will eventually become a reality.
Paul said Diamond Lake Associates would build less infrastructure overall with the smaller project, but that "doesn't affect the amount of infrastructure we'll do for baseball in the slightest." Sufficient transportation improvements will still be made, Paul said, but he declined to say what they would be.
"It will meet all the criteria established by baseball for loading and unloading the ballpark in a reasonable amount of time" and would not adversely affect the greater community, he said.
Laurence E. Bensignor, chairman of Diamond Lake Associates, said his development group is taking on a greater burden than it originally contemplated.
"We're stepping up to the plate more than we expected to because we still want to try to make it happen for the community," Bensignor said.
"This development group has a history of developing quality projects that enhance the overall area," he said. It would be naive to think such a project, which was announced before all the land was in hand, would not evolve, he said. Other owners could develop their land in conjunction with Diamond Lake, he added.
As for whether Diamond Lake would still be called Diamond Lake, Bensignor said time will tell.
"I'll know the answer to that when I've completed the process," he said.
Staff writer Tom Heath contributed to this report.