The Loudoun Hounds started with fan fests and t-shirts and bumper stickers and the promise of high-level minor league baseball and a new stadium in Ashburn in 2012. And then 2013. Then, at last, a groundbreaking, and promises of a stadium in 2014. But the lot at the corner of Route 7 and the Loudoun County Parkway remained defiantly vacant.
Now, two new developments appear to be driving the Hounds toward extinction. First, their stadium landlords at One Loudoun terminated their lease and sued the team’s parent company, Virginia Investment Partnership, to have the lease declared void. Then, team owner and VIP president Bob Farren sent out a letter to his investors saying he had laid off all employees, closed the team’s offices and “there is no money to go forward.” In addition, three creditors have obtained legal judgments in recent months totaling more than $4 million against VIP.
But Farren is still fighting. “The Hounds are not dead,” Farren said Monday. “There are still investors, there are still businesses, there are still politicians who have encouraged me over and over again to not give up. There are still a lot of people that want this to happen. Loudoun County is the best underdeveloped sports and entertainment market in the country.”
Still, baseball in Loudoun is not on the near horizon. The earliest that the Hounds could be released is now 2016, and that will take some quick work by Farren and his lawyers. Some of Farren’s investors have given up, as have some of his employees, but Farren said there is still hope for the Hounds.
“It’s very disappointing,” said financial analyst Ric Edelman, who invested an amount he wouldn’t disclose into the team and had bought the naming rights for the stadium, Edelman Financial Field. “Bob failed to secure the funding necessary to make it happen. My only hope is that somebody else will step in and make the dream a reality.”
Bill May, a vice president for Miller and Smith, the developer for the fast-growing One Loudoun residential and commercial complex, said much the same thing. VIP signed a lease for their spot on the 358-acre project in 2012, and “that required them to have the stadium built and open for ballgames by April 2014. That didn’t happen and hasn’t happened. The stadium financing and construction was VIP’s responsibility. We think having a stadium there is a good idea and hopefully somebody’ll come along and get it done.”
Farren maintains that “we have a valid, executed lease,” and that in trying to negotiate with One Loudoun for better terms, the landlord suddenly shut down communications. “It’s clear they don’t want us,” Farren said, “but we don’t know why they don’t want us. We’ve done what they wanted us to do.”
Farren burst into view, and seeming legitimacy, when he first won zoning approval for a 5,500-seat stadium back in 2009, at the
still dormant Kincora project in Ashburn. [I am informed that Kincora is building infrastructure and development is happening there.] In 2011, the first Loudoun Hounds FanFest was held with baseball greats such as Frank Howard, Bobby Richardson, Tommy John and Boog Powell in attendance, and the team reported that 10,000 future Hounds fans showed up. The team targeted 2012 as its opening date in the Atlantic League, composed of teams with no major league affiliations but with AAA-level players who sometimes make the jump straight to the major leagues, or who have already been there and are working to get back.
No stadium arose in 2012. Instead, Farren decided to move the park to One Loudoun, a town center-type project which was actually happening. One Loudoun, through its developer Miller and Smith, fought fiercely and quickly to obtain the zoning for a stadium at the corner of Route 7 and Loudoun County Parkway, and won it over neighbors’ objections in April 2013. A groundbreaking occurred at One Loudoun in June 2013, and a new stadium — Edelman Financial Field — was scheduled to open for the 2014 season. A minor league soccer team, Virginia Cavalry FC, also was to be a tenant.
Farren has close to 60 private investors, according to a filing with the rezoning application, including Edelman, Fairfax car dealer Gardner Britt and Republican Senate candidate Ed Gillespie. The amount they put into VIP is unknown, but one former employee said investors paid roughly $100,000 per point, with some investors buying multiple points and some buying fractions.
Farren said the stadium hadn’t been built yet “for a number of reasons, but the main one is they [One Loudoun] didn’t convey the land to us so we could enter the property.” He said One Loudoun “wanted assurances that we had the financing. We thought we had provided that, and they never got back to us.”
Meanwhile, other lawsuits began to pile up earlier this year. In Howard County, Md., Eaglebank said Farren had defaulted on a $3.25 million loan from 2013, and in March obtained a judgment for $3.3 million. In April, the Gordon Associates engineering firm obtained a judgment in Fairfax Circuit Court for $181,954 for unpaid civil engineering work. Then last month, Robert Van Hoecke, an oil pipeline consultant from Vienna, obtained a $723,366 judgment in Fairfax for an unpaid promissory note from 2013.
Farren said those judgments will not be a hindrance to launching the Hounds. “The costs associated with the delays,” he said, “can still be met in the early years of operations.”
Then, One Loudoun sued in August to have the lease formally declared invalid and the title clear. Farren responded two days later with a letter to his investors saying that the landlord had “been completely non-responsive” and unwilling to modify the ground lease for the stadium, which he said cost $1 million per year, plus common area maintenance charges of another $1 million per year. The Atlantic League, waiting to confirm the stadium financing before formally awarding a team to Loudoun, told Farren that the lease and charges were too high, Farren said.
“I want to emphasize,” Farren wrote, “that we had secured and verified (by One Loudoun) construction financing to build the ball park.” He also told his investors he was on the verge of a bond financing program “with a nationally known firm,” and that “either of these financing sources would have enabled VIP to complete construction prior to a 2016 season.” But without One Loudoun’s cooperation, they could not build, Farren said in the August 13 letter.
“In short, there is no money to go forward,” he told investors. “Given the delays, decisions have been made to further reduce the VIP cash burn to an absolute minimum. Consequently, all employees have been laid off or have resigned…The office at Pacific Boulevard is now closed and we will be virtual for the time being.” Farren said he sent the letter because his investors wanted to reduce costs until construction begins. “It’s perfectly good business sense,” he said Monday. “You don’t want to pretend to be something you’re not.”
Two ex-employees were dubious that Farren would ever deliver the financing for a stadium estimated to cost $32 million, along with the costs of running a baseball and soccer team. “We were always hearing that financing was coming, and it never did,” said one former employee, who asked to remain anonymous because he hoped to catch on with another team. He said when Farren left VIP last year, there was an uptick in meetings and movement toward a stadium. But Farren soon returned and “that all halted.”
David D’Onofrio, the former spokesman for the team, left early in the year. He would say only that “sports in Loudoun County have a strong future. I hope to see it come to fruition.”
Frank Boulton, the founder of the Atlantic League, said Tuesday that “we really think it’s a terrific market and we remain interested and supportive of anyone who wants to come forward with a proposal for membership in our league.”
Farren swears he can still deliver this team and this stadium, a project he’s been working on for more than a decade. “I still believe we can find a resolution” with One Loudoun, he said Monday. “It’s still a great project for the investors, for the residents and for One Loudoun. They need to open up the lines of communication again. It’s them that stopped talking to us…This can still happen. And it is my goal to make it happen.”