P-Nats negotiating new ballpark
By ROBERT DASKI and KEITH WALKER
Potomac News & Observer
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Potomac Nationals owner Art Silber said on Wednesday that "a memorandum of understanding" is being negotiated between the Nationals, the Prince William County Park Authority and Prince William Board of County Supervisors.
The memorandum would require the approval of the board so a new stadium can be built for the Nationals' 2008 season.
The board has not approved a new stadium, but Silber said he hopes approval will come "within the next few weeks."
Silber said the memorandum outlines a 25-year lease in which the Nationals, the Washington Nationals' affiliate in the Class A Carolina League, would agree to lease the park for that time period. The ballclub and county would split the costs of building the park. The agreement also outlines what would happen with the naming rights revenues that might come if a new stadium is built.
Should the plan to build the stadium be approved, the county would issue a $22 million bond that the Nationals and county would split. Silber said the county would own the stadium.
Silber said the new ballpark will have a "capacity of 6,500 with 4,000 fixed seats, spacious grassy seating and picnic areas to accommodate 6,500 fans."
"We have to have a new ballpark if baseball is going to continue to stay in the county," Silber said. "The existing ballpark is literally falling down."
Renovation of 23-year-old Pfitzner Stadium, where the P-Nats play, has been estimated to be more expensive than building a new facility.
He also said several of the major league organizations the team has been affiliated with over the years have gone elsewhere due to the unsatisfactory stadium conditions.
"If we don't build a new ballpark, we won't have baseball in Prince William County," Silber said. "We won't have a place to play. You know how much I love it, and baseball is a big part of my life. But we literally can't play in that ballpark. It's falling apart. It doesn't meet the standards any longer."
Silber said home and opposing clubhouses are in poor condition. He also said the field has no drainage system and the majority of seats are made of steel.
The new ballpark would be built next to Pfitzner Stadium over one of the existing softball fields that county teams use. Before that happens, Silber said, a new softball field would be built to replace the old one. He also said the old park would be used for softball, meaning that four softball fields would be in use instead of three.
Prince William chairman Corey A. Stewart, R-at large, agreed.
"In fact, what's going to happen is we're not going to lose a softball field. The softball field is going to be replaced by another softball field," he said Wednesday.
Supervisor W.S. "Wally" Covington, R-Brentsville, said the supervisors were in a quandary over what to do about the stadium. On one hand, the county has had a good relationship with the ballclub. On the other hand, the county is facing an $18.1 million shortfall in fiscal 2007 that is likely to carry over into fiscal 2008.
"I do think they've been a good amenity for Prince William County and I think an important amenity, but it's a budget issue too," Covington said.
The chance that infrastructure will suffer at the cost of a new stadium worries Covington.
"The question boils down to, 'Are we in a financial crisis? Can we afford to take on risk?' " Covington said. "My feeling is that given the budgets that we're looking at right now, it becomes very difficult for me to lose road money for a ballpark."
The Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted Tuesday to direct the staff to prepare a budget for 2008 that did not include the stadium.
Covington said any deal to build the stadium would have to be very attractive to the county to get his approval.
"The deal would have to be awfully good and I think there are some things missing at this point," Covington said.
Stewart said getting money for naming rights could make the deal work.
"In the minor leagues, this has begun to generate significant revenues which we are hoping - looking at the prospect of the naming rights offsetting the cost of the stadium by anywhere from five to 10 million dollars or more," Stewart said.
"We could be looking at a fairly negligible impact on our budget," Stewart said.
But losing the ball team is an unattractive option, Covington said.
"Now that the nation's capital has major league baseball and we have the farm team to it here, they're an important part of the community. We're getting a little squeezing on this," Covington said.
Covington couldn't comment further on the deal to build the stadium as negotiations are still under way.
There is no date for a vote to approve building the stadium.
The public will get a chance to voice opinions on the stadium during a public hearing on Jan. 23, Stewart said.
"There's a lot of innuendo out there, rumors and frankly a lot of incorrect information about the impacts of the stadium," he said. "I want the public to know all of that information and I want the public to give us their input of what they think we ought to do."