Northern Va. only site with funding approved

HERNDON, Va. -- A proposal by state and local officials to
move the Montreal Expos to the nation's fastest-growing county
features a public-private partnership that requires no new taxes to
pay for the $442 million ballpark, proponents said Monday.

The proposal gives northern Virginia a leg up on the other
regions bidding for the Major League Baseball franchise because it
is the only site competing for the Expos with a fully financed
funding plan on the books, said Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority
Chairman Keith Frederick.

The only government action required would be site plan approval
from the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. A majority of the
board attended a rally Monday to express support for the plan.

"We have the public will to get it done," Frederick said. "We
have a financing plan that is ready to go. We've got a great site.
We are ready."

Northern Virginia is one of several cities and regions seeking
to land the moribund Expos franchise, which is currently owned by
Major League Baseball. Other bidders include Washington, D.C.,
Norfolk, Las Vegas, Portland, Ore., and Monterrey, Mexico.

The plan calls for building a 42,500-seat stadium near Dulles
International Airport, on the outer edge of the Washington, D.C.
suburbs. The ballpark would be part of a town square-style
development that would include residential, retail and commercial

The developer proposing the plan -- a consortium of builders
Beazer, Centex and Van Metre companies -- is willing to contribute
$82 million in infrastructure costs, reducing the ballpark cost
from $442 million to $360 million.

The Dulles site is one of five that has long been under
consideration for a northern Virginia ballpark, but it had once
been considered at the bottom of the list because of traffic
problems. The fast-growing county already suffers from traffic that
often approaches gridlock, and public transportation does not
currently extend from Washington. In fact, Monday's rally to
announce the plan was delayed by about 10 minutes because traffic
slowed the arrival of some VIPs.

But politicians in Arlington County, a close-in suburb of
Washington that had been home to several preferred sites, balked at
a new stadium.

Loudoun County appears to be welcoming the possibility of a
ballpark. Supporters cite transportation improvements under way and
under consideration, including a possible extension of Metrorail to
the site by 2012. The ballpark would be built in 2008, with games
played at Washington's RFK Stadium until then.

Supporters now also cast the Dulles site's distance from
Washington as a plus, saying it should assuage concerns of
Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos that a D.C.-area team will
hurt his franchise.

Financing for the stadium is already in place because the
Virginia General Assembly in 1997 passed legislation permitting the
state to pay two-thirds of the cost of a new stadium, using taxes
generated by the ballpark to pay back the bonds.

Under previous financing plans, the taxing authority granted by
the legislature was not quite enough to fully fund the state's
share of construction, and a small tax like a hotel occupancy tax
likely would have been required to put together a complete plan.

Now, with the willingness of developers to pay part of the
costs, no new taxes will be needed.

In addition, the one-third cost to be borne by the club owner
will no longer be required up front. Instead, the state will recoup
the costs through annual rent of $10 million, significantly more
than what would have been charged under the old plan.

Major League Baseball had been concerned that requiring an owner
to make a large upfront payment for a ballpark would reduce the
ability of any ownership group to pay a competitive price for the

William Collins III, a northern Virginia businessman who would
be a leading contender for ownership of a northern Virginia
franchise, would not speculate on how much he could pay for the
Expos under the new financing plan.

"Major League Baseball knows what the value of a franchise is.
They know what an ownership group can pay," he said.

Stadium Authority Director Gabe Paul said the financing plan
would be solvent even if the franchise drew only 1 million fans a

"We could have the lowest attendance in baseball and this plan
still works," Paul said.