In a significant step toward bringing minor league baseball to Southern Maryland, the Charles County Board of Commissioners this week formalized an agreement with a Maryland partnership that has built a dozen stadiums during the past two decades.
The first pitch could be thrown as early as 2007 at the planned $19 million complex in the Waldorf area. Commissioners hailed the 20-year agreement with Maryland Baseball LLC as a boon for the region.
"It's not just about baseball," said Commissioner Al Smith (R-Waldorf), who envisions families attending concerts and drive-in movies at the field.
The cost of building the 4,500-seat stadium -- planned for an old gravel mining site along Piney Church Road, just south of Billingsley Road -- would be divided among the county, the state and the private partnership.
Under the lease approved Monday, the county is guaranteed at least $250,000 a year in revenue. County Administrator Eugene Lauer anticipates that the county's actual cut will be more than $300,000, or half of its projected $600,000 annual debt obligation.
Lauer said the county "held out for a guarantee, regardless of what else happens."
The team would be responsible for managing the stadium, cleaning, maintenance, security and promotion. The county would tap 15 percent of the revenue from the stadium naming rights, skyboxes and advertising on the video scoreboard in addition to 25 percent of other net revenue, such as from food sales and rental fees.
For each game, the county would receive 100 free tickets to give to youth groups and seniors. The contract also gives the county the option of additional tickets for a "county employee night."
In addition to minor league games, the county could use the stadium for community events and youth sports such as soccer and football.
The home team will not be determined until the financing is settled. Peter Kirk, chairman of Maryland Baseball LLC, said he plans to continue conversations with the Baltimore Orioles, in addition to the Washington Nationals, whose ownership is still up for grabs.
From his experience with 12 stadiums in locations such as Bowie, Aberdeen and Frederick, Kirk said the quality of the baseball has not driven attendance.
But, he said, "to have a team with a major league parent close to home is rewarding."
"There is a real benefit to some of the die-hard baseball fans to see the young players [in the minor leagues] and then hopefully see them in Baltimore and Washington."
The eight-team Atlantic League has tentatively agreed to provide a team for the stadium. Kirk called the contract approved Monday "a key ingredient."
"The fact that we now have this lease approved is a big step, and the league will be thrilled," he said.
Still, the success of the stadium project depends on roughly $6 million in state funding. The legislature has provided $325,000 for design and engineering.
The county is gearing up to make its case to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) for $3 million in his next budget.
"We have to get the state funding," Lauer said. "It is critical to the project going forward."
As with the Nationals' stadium, who should pay for the ballpark is a source of controversy. Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert) said the state is stretched thin paying for new schools and roads.
"Many worthwhile projects get turned down because we don't have the money," he said. "It's a matter of priorities."
O'Donnell said he is not opposed to a stadium in Waldorf, just the use of tax dollars. He does not plan to lobby against the project in Annapolis. But, he said, "if asked, I'll give my opinion. And I'm sure I will be asked."
Ehrlich, who played football at Princeton University, generally is supportive of state funding for athletic facilities, said his spokeswoman, Shareese DeLeaver.
"However, in fiscally difficult times it is necessary to prioritize,'' she said. "I can't say whether it will be yes or no, but he will consider it in the coming months."