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Potomac Nationals stadium lease deal would be most expensive in Minor League Baseball


Photos: Potomac Nationals fans pack the Board of Supervisors chambers, Potomac Nationals Owner Art Silber

WOODBRIDGE, Va. — The owner of the Potomac Nationals told Prince William County leaders they had to choose to move forward with a proposal to build a new baseball stadium in Woodbridge or lose the team.

“We’re outta time…We need to know if we’re going to move. The lead time for another ballpark for another community is two years. We will sell the team. We’re not going to own the team unless it is here,” Potomac Nationals Owner Art Silber told the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.

Supervisors listened, and to move ahead with a non-binding agreement that calls for the prospect of building a $35 million baseball stadium with as many as 7,000 seats for the Potomac Nationals to lease from the county for 30 years. In addition to construction costs, county taxpayers would be on the hook for up to $7 million in site work to prepare the stadium site and cover the cost of a $450,000 annual rent payment to JBG Companies, the owners of the Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center where the new stadium would be built.

The annual rent payment would be the most expensive in all of Minor Leauge Baseball, said Michelle Attreed, who works in the county budget office. With a rent escalator clause in the contract, the county would pay millions in rental fees to JBG Companies for the seven acres of land on which the stadium will sit, across from Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center.

The county would raise the $35 million needed for the project by selling bonds. The Potomac Nationals would be required to pay back that money over the course of 30 years to cover the debt and interest the county incurs for the project. If the team is able to repay the monies, county taxpayers would only fund the site work, and the majority cost of any raod improvements around the stadium area. 

“In this deal, if you give me seven dollars, I’ll give you 70. If you give me $7 million, I’ll give you $70 million of county-owned assets and improvements immediately, and you’ll never have any cost over the next 30 years,” Silber told the Supervisors.

The Board of Supervisors voted yes after hearing from a sea of Potomac Nationals supporters.

“What drove me here was this team. What made me double my commute to work? I wanted to be close to baseball in Prince William,” said Kevin Delaney, who moved to Prince William County from Alexandria,

“I’ve been coming to games for years…we’ve been season ticket holders. We’ve gotten to know the players, and they’re like older brothers to me,” said Tabitha Pollace, of Stafford County.

Silber said his family has “never really have made much money over the years” of owning the team, but they have been able to provide many first-time jobs for area youth.

“They hire people, and for the first time, they learn how to make a buck for hard work. It’s very hard to find such a thing. You don’t learn that in a university,” said Desi Arnaz, of Prince William County.

After its built, the Potomac Nationals would be responsible the cost of maintaining the stadium. The county would own the stadium and would be able to use the venue 183 days out of the year, as long as it doesn’t interfere with Potomac Nationals games.

A new stadium would attract 40 new jobs to the region, and retain as many, according to Michelle Attreed, who works in the county’ budget office. The project is slated to make a $26 million improvement to the community, she added.

A transportation analysis to identify what transportation improvements are needed for roads around the stadium is underway. The study includes traffic counts of cars during peak rush hour times, and the study could show Potomac Town Center Boulevard, Gideon Drive, and Dale Boulevard — all roads leading to the stadium site — need to be improved at taxpayers cost.

While the stadium would be visible from Interstate 95, drivers would not have direct access to it from the highway. “Those going to the stadium must use the local road network,” said Prince William County Transportation Department Director Rick Canizales.

If the road improvement costs are too much, that could be enough to kill the deal.

A new 1,400-space commuter parking garage, also to be built and maintained by Prince William County, would sit next to the new stadium. Commuters would use the garage by day while baseball fans and stadium event goers could park there on nights and weekends. The parking garage will provide much-needed commuter parking for eastern Prince William County and may be built whether or not a stadium deal is reached, said County Executive Christopher Martino.

Silber joined Board Chairman Corey Stewart, and then owners of Roadside Development in 2012 to announce a new stadium would be built at the town center. Silber told an anxious crowd that he would write a $25 million check to pay for the stadium construction and find a corporate sponsor to purchase naming rights for the stadium for $10 million.

“What started out as a bad idea for taxpayers is now turning into a huge problem for taxpayers. The stadium is a very bad deal for Woodbridge. I can remember when Woodbridge Supervisor Principi was against the plan and said these are ‘a bunch of hot dog jobs,'” said Bill Petrak, who lives across from where the new stadium would be built.

Principi, and Supervisors Marty Nohe, Maureen Caddigan, John Jenkins, and Stewart all voted to move forward with the non-binding agreement.

“We are not ready to sign a contract on this yet. This is not a non-binding agreement,” said Nohe. “We aren’t at the beginning of the end; we’re at the end of the beginning of this.”

Those who didn’t vote for the stadium said they had more questions than answers, and wanted to defer the vote.

Gainesville Supervisor Peter Candland asked why an independent appraisal of the land had not been completed, asking whether or not the seven acres of land on which the stadium sits is worth the annual $450,000 initial lease payment.

“That’s $17 million over 30 years to lease the property. If we bought it outright, it would be vastly less expensive,” said Candland.

Supervisor Ruth Anderson said she wasn’t convinced the project would do much to improve the county’s commercial tax base, noting a goal to increase by commercial tax revenues by 35% in the next five years.

“If it were just me and my pocketbook, I would be ready, but I represent a lot of people who say they’re not ready… and I’m representing those people tonight,” said Anderson.

Silber routinely reminded leaders that Minor Leauge Baseball had pressured his team to leave their current home at Richard G. Pfitzner Stadium, located behind the county’s government center.

“The ‘Pfitz’ is rated one of the 10 worst stadiums in Minor Leauge Baseball,” he told the Board of Supervisors of the stadium that dates back to 1984. “We haven’t really made any money there for the 28 years our family has had the ballclub, but we’ve made a significant commitment to the community.

The county owns Pfitzner and, over the years, has paid to improve the field conditions and locker rooms. It’s most recent facelift was a $230,000 project in 2015.

Silber has two years in which to move his team to a new home or tell Minor Leauge Baseball a deal is in the works to move the team. Communities across North Carolina are clamoring for a team like the Potomac Nationals, he reminded the Board.

The Potomac Nationals, JBG Companies, and Prince William County hope to have reached an agreement by summer. This fall, they hope to forward any agreement reached to the offices of Minor Leauge Baseball for final approval.

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