Perhaps Art Silber and the Potomac Nationals have finally found the perfect match to end a decades-long pursuit of a new ballpark by agreeing to move to a planned new stadium in Fredericksburg, Va., a city that has sought a minor league team for several years only to come up empty.
The Carolina League franchise and the City of Fredericksburg announced a plan on Tuesday evening to build a new ballpark for the P-Nats in a massive retail and residential development just off Interstate-95 in the growing Northern Virginia city roughly an hour south of Washington, D.C. The move would end the team’s nearly 40-year tenure in Woodbridge, Va., but would also bring to a close Silber’s two-decade pursuit of a ballpark to replace outdated Pfitzner Stadium.
Despite past failures, Silber, the longtime owner of the P-Nats, is confident that the proposed $35-million ballpark in the expansive Celebration Virginia South development will become a reality and the home of his beloved ballclub beginning in 2020. The proposal calls for the team to finance, design, construct and own the ballpark in exchange for an annual $1.05 million payment for 30 years from the city, which would be the multi-purpose stadium’s primary tenant and have use of it on non-gamedays.
The announcement comes less than a year after Silber’s attempt to build a new ballpark along Interstate-95 near their current home in Woodbridge, Va., collapsed amid contentious negotiations. Silber, who hinted that a new ballpark project could be in the works earlier this spring, said that Fredericksburg’s pursuit of the team is one of the main reasons the deal has come together so quickly.
“The difference here [compared to previous ballpark proposals] is that they came to us. That makes a gigantic difference,” Silber said in a telephone interview last night after he appeared at a Fredericksburg City Council meeting. “They did a wonderful job of informing us in terms of the way they would like to structure things and how it would work. They put us together with the landowner. It has been a really pretty easy situation without anybody playing any games and everybody living up to exactly what they had said. That gives us a lot of confidence because I think they really want it to happen and we do as well.”
The deal is not done just yet. The Fredericksburg City Council is scheduled to meet again on July 10 to hear public comments and decide if they will approve the proposed letter of intent. A 120-day study period would follow before the council meets again to vote on a final agreement, which would lead to shovels finally hitting the dirt for a new P-Nats ballpark.
“It is a great plan, and we are very hopeful that they are going to do it in two weeks,” Silber said.
The new 5,000-seat ballpark would include all the bells and whistles of modern venues, including a club level, luxury suites, a variety of dining and group-seating options. The location just off I-95 in an upscale retail and residential development roughly 50 miles outside of Washington, D.C., creates the potential for a top-notch minor league ballpark, Silber said.
Building just that has been Silber’s dream as he negotiated deals across Northern Virginia—beginning in 1996 when Prince William County officials rejected his proposal for a new stadium and convention stadium, and most recently when they narrowly voted down his most promising proposal along I-95 last July. After initially suggesting that he might have to move the team, Silber spoke much more optimistically earlier this spring.
“I’m 77 now. I believe that we will celebrate my 80th birthday in a new ballpark,” he said.
Likewise, Fredericksburg has pursued a team to a bring to a new ballpark for several years. In 2012, the city’s attempts to lure the Hagerstown Suns to town fell apart when the Suns partnership with Diamond Nation, a company that hosts youth baseball tournaments, disintegrated. The city sees the deal with the Potomac Nationals as a more viable option.
“We think that [city taxpayers] will not be affected at all,” Bill Freehling, director of economic development for the city, told the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. “We’re really excited about this. Besides the economic benefit, there’s a quality-of-life, intangible benefit that comes from having a baseball team in town.”
According to the Free-Lance Star, the city would move its annual concert series to the ballpark along with Christmas celebrations that include a skating rink and lights display, food festivals, music festivals, sports tournaments and corporate events.
“This is the kind of thing that might make us officially a city,” Fredericksburg council member Chuck Frye said.