Potomac Nationals stadium gets initial Prince William County approval

8 March 2017

Prince William County just took a big step toward building a new stadium for the Potomac Nationals, a minor league baseball team affiliated with the Washington Nationals.

The board of county supervisors voted 5-3 on March 7 to approve a letter of intent to build the $35 million stadium for the Single-A team on a site near Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center in Woodbridge, following months of negotiations with team owner Art Silber and the JBG Cos., which owns the land and surrounding town center. Supervisors Ruth Anderson, R-Occoquan, Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, and Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, provided the dissenting votes.

Though those supervisors expressed reservations about some of the deal conditions, the board largely saw the letter of intent as a positive step to keep negotiations on the stadium moving.“This allows us to continue the dialogue,” said Supervisor Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge.

Silber told supervisors that it was a particularly crucial step to making sure the project gets off the ground, because Minor League Baseball has given him until the end of the 2019 season to get out of the aging Pfitzner Stadium. But should this deal continue to move forward, he expects to get permission to stay there a bit longer.“I would not be gambling the equity for my family, if I didn’t believe this would work,” Silber said.

The meeting marked the first time that supervisors and county staff discussed the terms of the proposed deal in a public forum, though county documents released via public records requests revealed a great many of these details over the last few months.

Chiefly, the deal requires the county to raise $35 million to cover the cost of stadium construction by issuing taxable bonds through its Industrial Development Authority and lease the land for the stadium from JBG. Then, the P-Nats will pay back the county over the course of a 30-year lease, covering debt service costs and lease payments to the tune of about $2.7 million per year.

Attached to the project is a 1,400-space parking garage that will double as commuter parking, which the county is responsible for funding by securing state grants to cover its roughly $30 million price tag. Prince William will also have to conduct a traffic impact analysis of the area and cover the bulk of the costs for any nearby road improvements — county staff estimates those changes could cost $3 million, though JBG could chip in as much as $250,000.

But the prime up-front cost to the county comes in the form of a $7 million payment it will have to send to the Nationals and JBG to prepare the land for both the stadium and the garage for construction.

Yet the letter of intent is merely a first step for a deal. First, the P-Nats need to secure approval from Minor League Baseball for their stadium plans, and only then can the county initiate a complex legal procedure to verify the financial soundness of Prince William’s bonds.

Known as a “bond validation suit,” the county would present this proposed deal to a judge and invite legal challenges to it. If it clears both hurdles, then the county would be protected from future lawsuits challenging those bonds.

If all goes as planned, Michelle Attreed — the county’s finance director — estimates that the county would be ready to finalize this whole arrangement by this summer. But, naturally, the full approval of the stadium’s site and its construction will require more work.

Attreed also emphasized that any one of the three parties involved could walk away from the deal until they come to a final agreement. For instance, she suggested that the county might decide not to proceed with the deal if it can’t successfully obtain funding for the parking garage or the cost of road improvements in the area proves to be unpalatable.

Similarly, she also warned that a consultant’s report on the stadium indicated that the P-Nats might be underestimating its cost if they want to make enough money to fully pay back the county. Instead of the $35 million the county is ready to raise, the consultants’ analysis suggests that similar stadiums could cost more than $45 million — if they prove to be right as the design process unfolds, Attreed noted that the county could still back out of the deal.