Negotiations between Prince William County leaders and the Potomac Nationals to bring a new stadium to Woodbridge for the minor league baseball team seem in danger of falling apart.
The Board of County Supervisors originally planned to vote on a lease agreement for a $35 million replacement for Pfitzner Stadium at its July 18 meeting. But At-Large Chairman Corey Stewart has now pulled the matter from the agenda at the team’s request, as team owner Art Silber expressed reservations about the current terms of the deal.
“The deal is pretty close to dead,” Stewart said in an interview July 13. “I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the team takes off.”
Silber also issued a statement Thursday, saying he’s “saddened to report that the parties have been unable to come to an agreement on terms to build a new ballpark.”
“While we are open to discussing other options with the county, we are now required by Minor League Baseball to also explore other opportunities to obtain a new home that will comply with Major League Baseball standards for minor league teams,” Silber wrote.
Silber contends that those “other opportunities” include moving the team to another location in Northern Virginia, or selling it to an out-of-state buyer, potentially in North Carolina. Since last month, Silber’s argued that he’d need to show Minor League Baseball officials a signed deal before the end of July if he was to avoid the team somehow leaving Prince William.
The county seemed on course to take a vote ahead of that deadline, but by July 11, concerns about that timeline started to emerge. At Silber’s urging, Supervisor Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge, tried unsuccessfully to delay consideration of the deal until September, but supervisors resoundingly rejected that attempt.
Now, the board is left without any consideration of the deal on a future agenda, leaving negotiations very much in limbo.
“To the extent possible, I’ll keep pushing on this, but it’s not a one-man band,” Stewart said. “Anything we do takes five votes, and we have three supervisors who are opposed to any public investment on the east end of the county.”
Indeed, Supervisors Ruth Anderson, R-Occoquan, Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, and Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, have opposed the proposed deal for months now. They’ve largely cited concern about the deal’s risk for county taxpayers in their opposition, as the county would need to raise the money for the stadium’s construction using Industrial Development Authority bonds. The team would then be responsible for paying the county back over the course of a 30-year lease.
But Stewart dismisses their concerns as simple opposition to any construction on the county’s eastern end, citing previous dustups like the spat over the Colgan High School aquatics center as evidence that he’ll have little success convincing the three supervisors to support the stadium project going forward.
“I call them Pete and his repeats,” Stewart said. “At the end of the day, they’re just opposed to any investment on the east end. But it is possible that one or two other supervisors could support the deal in the future.”
But, in interviews, all three supervisors expressed their own frustrations with how the team and Stewart have managed this process. They believe Silber created a false deadline to convince the board to vote against Candland’s proposal to send the deal to a November bond referendum, and question the team’s motives in pushing off the July 18 vote.
“If they’re not ready, that’s their own fault,” Lawson said. “They do not have a justification for continuing this discussion...and I can’t help but question their word on this now.”
Anderson says she saw some “major things to still be negotiated” in the paperwork surrounding the deal, but she still felt ready to vote on it next week. Despite Stewart’s attacks, she says her main concerns surrounded issues like the team’s reluctance to establish a “reserve fund” up front that would cover one year of their roughly $2.7 million in lease payments to the county.
“The county staff’s doing their best to do what’s right for taxpayer, because there is a lot of taxpayer money involved here, no matter what Mr. Silber says,” Anderson said.
But Candland believes there aren’t necessarily intractable differences between the county and the P-Nats over the terms of the deal that have prompted all this uncertainty. Rather, he feels Stewart engineered this delay simply because he didn’t have five votes on the board to approve the deal (a reality Stewart acknowledges, though he pushes back against Candland’s other criticisms).
“The chairman is not against doing whatever he thinks he needs to do to get his desired outcome,” Candland said.
All parties involved declined to discuss what part of the deal has prompted this impasse, or if some recent change to its terms from when supervisors initially approved a letter of intent with the team back in March fueled this discord.
But, even with this latest setback, Principi remains generally optimistic that negotiations with the team aren’t finished quite yet.
“We’re actually making progress and narrowing the list of issues we need to work out,” Principi said. “Ideally, this would’ve been done by July, but we’re not there yet, so cooler heads have to prevail.”