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Minor League Baseball president to testify in Prince William ahead of Potomac Nationals stadium vote

Whether or not a proposed $35 million Potomac Nationals baseball stadium goes to a referendum in November comes down to one swing vote.

Coles District Supervisor Marty Nohe will be the deciding factor on Tuesday whether or not voters will have a say in a project, which for which taxpayers mean they would on the hook for an annual $425,000 land lease payment should the baseball team be unable to pay the rent.

Nohe said he likes the idea of letting voters decide, but he’s yet to decide to support a referendum. The Potomac Nationals have threatened to kill the project should the Board send the project to a referendum.

The team also maintains it can pay the lease over 30 years and in negotiation with the Prince William County officials, offering a $2.7 million as an insurance policy to so county that covers all stadium expenses for one year, including the land lease price.

“We need to negotiate the best deal we can, and we haven’t finished negotiations yet,” said Nohe. “We risk losing the best deal altogether if the team walks away.”

The Potomac Nationals held attended a meeting Thursday night of the Woodbridge Potomac Communities Civic Association to drum up support for its proposed 6,000-seat baseball stadium to be located behind Wegmans at Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center. The new ballfield would replace the team’s 33-year-old Richard G. Pfitzner Stadium behind the Prince William County Government Center.

Supporters of the team during the meeting were urged to go and speak to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday and to tell leaders not to send the deal to a referendum.

“That will kill the deal,” said Seth Silber, whose father Art Silber owns the team. “This will not go forward if that happens.”

Baseball fans will be joined by Minor Leauge Baseball President Pat O’Connor who is scheduled to testify before the Board of Supervisors about the importance of the stadium to the league and community. O’Connor is set to speak at 2 p.m. while supervisors will take a vote on the referendum sometime after 7:30 p.m.

Move or sell

Team owners say they have a Minor League Baseball-imposed deadline of 2018 to move the team into a new stadium. The team says Pftiztner is not up to par with current Minor Leauge Baseball standards despite recent improvements to the fields, lights, and clubhouse over the years.

The team’s owners want to keep the Potomac Nationals in Prince William County, but If they can’t, they’ll sell the team. If the team has to wait for the result of a November referendum, that will not give the team enough time to find a buyer because of the imposed deadline.

Gainesville District Supervisor Peter Candland has long argued the voters should decide if they’re willing to back a stadium. He says the team’s 2018 deadline is a scare tactic used to get county officials to seal the deal.

“The worse thing we do is let fear bind us to a bad deal,” said Candland. “If they’re so confident in this deal, why wouldn’t they let it go to a referendum?”

Candland called the deal “unusual” and said that, unlike funding the construction of new schools and roads, building stadiums is not something he was elected to do. If voters approve the stadium and the county issues bonds, that will have a neagative impact on the jurisdiction’s AAA bond rating, he added.

Thursday night, Woodbridge District Supervisor Frank Principi, who supports the Stadium and led a Q and A session during the public meeting, said Candland, and fellow Supervisors Ruth Anderson and Jeanine Lawson were “Republican TEA Party members” who do not believe that financing a stadium is the role of local government.

Principi, and Supervisors Corey Stewart and John Jenkins do not support putting the stadium to a referendum.

“What a deal. They’re building it, and the taxpayers own it,” said Principi of the stadium negotiations between the team, the county, and property owner JBG Companies.

If voters approve a stadium, the county will float $35 million in bonds to cover construction costs and the team will pay back the funds. If no vote, the stadium will be funded through the county’s Industrial Development Authority.

By the numbers

The Potomac Nationals will bear the cost of stadium construction. The county will own it, and be allowed to use it 183 days out of the year while the team is away. The team averages 70 home games per year.

The team will be responsible for maintenance and operations costs of the stadium. JBG Companies expects to spend $14 million prepping the land, grading the small hills on the site so that the stadium can be built.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is expected to fund a $34 million parking garage that baseball fans will pay to use. Commuters will use the garage during weekdays at no cost. Prince William County is responsible for $7 million for traffic improvements at the baseball stadium site leading up to garage construction.

JBG Companies has offered to lease the land on which the parking garage will sit for $1 a year. Company spokesman Tom Sebastian said JBG is more interested in building a destination for the region than bringing in the highest profits possible for the land, which could mean that instead of a stadium, developing more traditional commercial retail properties on the stadium siteStonebridge at Potomac Town Center and collecting individual lease payments, or selling the land.

“We feel like the property needs, and what the people of eastern Prince William County need, is a public space with programmed activities,” said Sebastian, of a new park that will double as a outdoor ice skating rink that will soon replace an old Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill at Stonebridge.

The stadium is another piece of the puzzle for making Stonebridge a destination.

“People will come from all over the region and hopefully shop in our stores, eat in our restaurants, and take in a baseball game under the stars,” added Sebastian.

The stadium is expected to create 288 jobs in and around the stadium, to include retail and restaurants at Stonebridge. The complex could generate as much as $175 million in economic activity per year for the region.

JBG’s $129 $190 million purchase of Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center in 2015 was the most expensive real estate deal in the county, said Sebastian. 

Stadium amenities

The Potomac Nationals on Thursday night for the first time showed new renderings of the proposed stadium. The structure will feature a 360-degree concourse that will allow fans to leave their seats to purchase concessions, to go to a child’s play place, or relax in a lounge area while still having clear views of the action on the field.

The general seats will be the same quality as those at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., an upgrade from metal benches at Pfitzner. The new stadium will also feature 12 corporate suites and a rooftop party deck.

The team says the stadium’s planned location next to Interstate 95 will help attract more fans and will lead to the team bringing in three times more revenue than it currently does.

“People will drive up and down 95 and immediately know the stadium is there,” said Silber.

As for the current 33-year-old Pfitzner Stadium location behind the county government center, “you couldn’t hide a stadium better if you tried,” added Silber.

Transportation improvements

A recent traffic impact analysis showed six of the intersections near the stadium site are failing and will need to be improved, especially those on Opitz Boulevard, said Principi. Residents are concerned not only about what an influx of baseball fans will do the traffic situation but how they will navigate the area for regular errands after the stadium opens.

“The [Board of Supervisors] will not give us Metro. Without mass transit, we can’t get to our destinations,” said Chris Brown, who lives on Cardinal Drive about a mile from where the stadium could be built. “We’re choking on traffic down here.”

While it’s still in negotiation, the county is will to put up $5 million for transportation improvements recommended by the traffic analysis. If the costs exceed $5 million, JBG Companies could be on the hook for the cost of the roadway improvements, added Principi.

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  • Nationals fan

    If the Potomac Nationals’ stadium deal falls through, I welcome the team to explore coming to Richmond, VA. Currently we have the San Francisco Giants AA team, the Richmond Flying Squirrels. I do not understand what sense it makes to have a AA team so far from the parent team. Besides, their name is ridiculously stupid. The Squirrels are looking for a new stadium as well, but the current stadium does meet minor league standards. It may take some renovations, but The Diamond certainly could house the Nationals in Richmond. I would rather have an A Advanced affiliate of the Washington Nationals in Richmond than any affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, so fly away Flying Squirrels and come on in Nationals!!!

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