N. Virginia funding issue re-emerges

Legislator again voices opposition to state bonds as MLB, Va. group meet


August 26, 2004|By Ed Waldman | Ed Waldman,SUN STAFF

Virginia state Sen. John H. Chichester, The group trying to bring the Montreal Expos to Northern Virginia met with members of Major League Baseball's relocation committee for more than three hours yesterday, but the meeting was overshadowed by news that a second powerful state legislator is opposed to a key component of its ballpark financing plan.

Sen. John H. Chichester, a Fredericksburg Republican and chairman of the senate finance committee, said Tuesday that a private business should not benefit from bonds backed by the "moral obligation" of the state.

Moral obligation bonds "were not developed to help private enterprise," Chichester told the Associated Press.

Two weeks ago, William J. Howell, the Republican speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, also said he opposed using moral obligation bonds to help pay for the $422 million ballpark planned for a site near Washington Dulles International Airport in Loudoun County.

Neither legislator could be reached for comment yesterday.

Brian Hannigan, a spokesman for the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, a quasi-state agency that is negotiating with Major League Baseball, said yesterday that Chichester's opposition is not new.

"Sen. Chichester has been very consistent in his philosophical objection to private financing for Major League Baseball," Hannigan said.

"We are going to work with Sen. Chichester and all the members of the General Assembly to make sure they understand the economic benefits that this project will have."

The authority's financing plan calls for the state to issue approximately $418 million in bonds for the ballpark. The authority could issue the bonds, but it would have to pay a higher interest rate.

"We have said that we believe that we need the moral obligation as a credit enhancement in order to make the project affordable and cost-effective, and, ultimately, less costly to the state," Hannigan said.

Baseball is also considering Norfolk, Va.; Las Vegas; Portland, Ore.; and Monterrey, Mexico, to be the Expos' new home.

Norfolk's stadium financing plan calls for its bonds to be backed by the city, not the state.

Yesterday's meeting was attended by authority chairman Keith Frederick and executive director Gabe Paul Jr., as well as representatives from Diamond Lake Associates, a consortium of home builders that plans to develop the area around the ballpark, Hannigan said.

Hannigan declined to be specific about the discussions. MLB officials could not be reached.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who will decide where the Expos will play in 2005 after receiving a recommendation from the relocation committee, said in a TV interview this week that he expected the process to last four to six more weeks.

On Tuesday, the committee met with the group trying to bring the Expos to Washington. Orioles owner Peter Angelos vehemently opposes putting a team in either Washington or Northern Virginia.

The committee is next expected to meet with leaders from Norfolk and Las Vegas.

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