Potomac Nationals owner Art Silber says he remains interested in moving the team out of Woodbridge and building a new stadium in Northern Virginia — but even after the messy collapse of a stadium deal last summer, Prince William leaders aren’t resigned to losing the minor league baseball team quite yet.
At the Single-A team’s annual “Hot Stove Banquet” in Woodbridge on Jan. 28, Silber told a collection of P-Nats fans and boosters that he’s still engaged in discussions with other nearby localities about relocating the team. Silber recently negotiated an extension of the team’s lease at Pfitzner Stadium through 2020, but he has repeatedly warned that the 34-year-old facility won’t meet the squad’s long-term needs.
That’s why he ramped up his pursuit of a new stadium in Prince William last year, and he came close to striking a deal with the county to build one at Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center. But once negotiations collapsed in July, Silber signaled his willingness to go elsewhere and he says he was “contacted by virtually every county and every city in this entire area, many of which were very attractive and discussing different types of incentives.”
While he said that Minor League Baseball’s stringent relocation rules have prevented those discussions from becoming too in-depth just yet, Silber said those talks are starting to ramp up, though he “can’t say where” with much specificity. He had previously warned that the collapse of any deal in Prince William would force him to sell the team to a new owner that would likely move it out of state, but he has since downplayed that possibility.
“All I can tell you is that the areas we’re looking at are generally within a 30-minute drive of where we are,” Silber said. “And I really believe we will be able to retain our existing base of fans if that were to happen.”
Yet Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, a Republican, also worked to assure attendees that county leaders are still working with Silber to keep the team in Prince William.
Though the county’s original plan to issue $35 million in bonds to back the stadium’s construction was scuttled, Silber has floated the possibility of securing private financing to keep the team local.
“There’s nothing new to report,” Stewart said in an interview. “But the important thing is, it’s not dead.”
Stewart also pledged to P-Nats backers that “we haven’t given up and we won’t give up” on helping the team find a stadium site. As one of the staunchest supporters of the team’s plans for a new stadium last summer, Stewart added that he’s “absolutely dedicated to making sure we keep the P-Nats in the county for decades to come.”
But Stewart faces an uphill battle in convincing the rest of his colleagues on the board to share his enthusiasm. Silber had to withdraw last year’s deal from the board’s consideration in part because four of the eight supervisors signaled they wouldn’t support the plan, a fact that was not lost on speakers at the event.
In particular, Silber railed against the deal’s three most vocal opponents — Supervisors Ruth Anderson, R-Occoquan; Pete Candland, R-Gainesville; and Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville — by charging that they were “determined that we not have baseball” in the county. The trio frequently expressed concerns about the prospect of taking on debt to build the stadium, over fears that the team may not be able to meet its payments on a future stadium lease.
“That is not something we are going to forget,” Silber said. “We will certainly remember it when the next election comes around [in 2019].” Silber has chipped in thousands of dollars to Stewart’s campaigns for chairman over the years, and he and his wife have both given to Stewart’s bid for U.S. Senate this year.
Former Rep. Tom Davis, R-11th District, was also on hand to blast concerns raised by the deal’s detractors as “fake news” and “nonsense.” Emails released last year through a public records request by InsideNoVa suggest that the former Northern Virginia congressman helped Silber whip support for the deal on the board.
“The only way this is going to happen is with your help,” Davis told attendees. “Talk to your supervisors and tell them to support it...This is a good deal for the county.”
But as stadium discussions continue, in Prince William or elsewhere, Silber will also have to negotiate with Minor League Baseball to make sure the team is even able to continue playing in Pfitzner once 2018 ends. The league has repeatedly granted the P-Nats “waivers” to stay in the stadium, even though its conditions run afoul of MiLB standards for team facilities, with the latest set to expire at the end of the 2018 season.
Silber says the team has formally requested another waiver extension, and he’s “confident” they’ll earn a one-year delay from the league “and hopefully for another two years.” MiLB spokesman Jeff Lantz says the league received the waiver application and is reviewing it, and Silber expects to have an answer soon.
“There really isn’t any future for us in that ballpark,” Silber said.