The Potomac Nationals are now set to call Pfitzner Stadium home for at least the next few seasons, avoiding (for now) a move out of Prince William County.
The Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted 5-3 on Oct. 17 to extend a lease agreement with the minor league baseball team at the Woodbridge stadium through 2020 — the lease with the Washington Nationals’ Single-A affiliate was set to expire at the end of 2018. Supervisors Ruth Anderson, R-Occoquan, Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, and Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, voted against the extension.
Minor League Baseball officials said they feel Pfitzner (which the county first opened in 1984) lacks the modern amenities of other facilities, but they have repeatedly granted the team “waivers” to continue playing in the stadium all the same. That’s why the P-Nats have spent the better part of the last year aggressively pursuing a replacement for the stadium.
Yet a preliminary deal that would bring a new stadium to Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center collapsed in July over concerns from some supervisors that the county was risking its financial future by issuing bonds to help the team build the facility. Team owner Art Silber initially suggested that, without a new stadium deal in place by the summer, he would be forced to sell the team or move it elsewhere.
Silber hasn’t ruled out that possibility, but he says he is currently working to revive a deal in the county to use private financing rather than the public bonds that roiled the last round of negotiations. The new lease will give the team the chance to stay in Pfitzner as that plays out, with two one-year renewal options available through 2020.
“We’re very confident that, with the right location and the right circumstances, we can still make something happen,” Silber said in an interview. “To give us the opportunity to have these discussions, we still need to have a place to play ball.”
Should the team land a deal for a new stadium over the next few years, the amended lease would be terminated. It also allows for the P-Nats to move at any point, provided the team gives the county adequate notice and pays back some utility costs.
Those provisions frustrated opponents of the original deal, who proposed a series of motions to add harsher penalties to the lease if the team should leave (or even delay the vote entirely). Yet all of those measures failed.
“There is nothing in here that protects us if they find a better deal someplace else and decide to leave tomorrow,” Candland said. “I have a hard time looking at this situation with a lot of confidence that this partner has our best interests in mind also.”
Lawson agreed with that line of thinking, noting that the county would have effectively wasted any money it spent to improve Pfitzner over the years if the team leaves, and suggested that the board “rip [the lease] to shreds and start over.”
Supervisor Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge, shot back that the county wouldn’t be directly losing any money should the P-Nats depart under the terms of the new lease.
But Anderson wondered if it was worth bothering to extend the lease before the county even had assurances that MiLB would grant the team another waiver to stay in Pfitzner. The P-Nats are currently only allowed to play in Pfitzner through the 2018 season, though Silber is confident the league will cooperate and issue additional waivers in recognition of the work the P-Nats and the county have done on finding a new stadium. A MiLB spokesman said they have yet to receive a waiver application from the P-Nats.
Anderson pointed out that MiLB’s president and CEO was unequivocal in a presentation to supervisors in June, stating that he wasn’t inclined to keep granting waivers to the P-Nats without a clear stadium deal in place.
“My preference would be to know if we can get that [waiver] before we enter into this lease agreement,” Anderson said. “They were fairly firm when they spoke here.”
Candland made a motion to delay a vote on the lease until the P-Nats could get an answer on the question from MiLB, but that failed on a 4-4 tie — Supervisor Maureen Caddigan, R-Potomac, joined Anderson, Candland and Lawson in supporting that measure.
Supervisor Marty Nohe, R-Coles, suggested MiLB had no reason not to keep issuing waivers (also known as “variances”) for Pfitzner until the P-Nats “find a new home.” Though Candland sees the new lease as a “sweetheart deal” for the team, Nohe believes it represents more of a compromise measure.
“The variance is going to expire at some point, and they don’t want to commit to stay here if they’re going to go someplace else where they no longer need a variance,” Nohe said.
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