As the Loudoun Planning Commission wades through a proposal to permit a 5,500-seat stadium in the One Loudoun development, the case supporters appear to be developing is that Loudoun could miss its opportunity to land two professionals sports teams.
Opponents of the ballpark aren't buying it. Those against the park – whose concerns include noise, lights, traffic and the loss of planned office space – turned out along with supporters for a public hearing Tuesday night in Leesburg.
Comments were pretty evenly divided. Opponents included residents of the Potomac Green and Ashbrook communities, and those concerns about the Blue Heron rookery nearby; but there were also supporters from Potomac Green. Supporters primarily included baseball and soccer fans, and several people affiliated with the team.
Those opposing the stadium, for the most part, said they were opposed to the location, not the concept.
Bob Farren, president and CEO of VIP Sports & Entertainment, the group assembling the Loudoun Hounds professional baseball club, said failure at One Loudoun could result in the loss of the opportunity not only for baseball, but also the North American Soccer League team, Virginia Cavalry FC, which plans to share the stadium.
"Beginning play for the 2014 season at One Loudoun is critical for the Hounds and Cavalry,” he said. “This is the main reason we moved from our previous site to the current one.”
Farren said Thursday that the leagues are expecting the teams to play in 2014 and One Loudoun offers the only viable option.
Several opponents pointed out that the stadium remains approved at Kincora, suggesting that’s the best place for the ballpark. That approval expires in 2014. Infrastructure delays at Kincora would not permit completion of the park in time for 2014, according to representatives from the Hounds.
“If we slip to 2015, the awarded franchises for Loudoun could be lost and assigned to other areas of the country,” Farren said. “We are not in a position where we can wait any longer. "
A group called No Stadium on Route 7 has formed, although its membership remains anonymous. An inquiry about Farren’s assertions resulted in a response from the “NSO7 team” doubting whether the Hounds have actually locked down a baseball team. During the planning commission’s hearing Tuesday, Commission Helena Syska (Sterling) asked why the startup team does not yet exist. The NSO7 response suggested offered a similar concern.
“Instead there is a front office with a few executives and a very well-oiled PR machine,” the NSO7 response stated. “The Hounds have successfully managed to build the perception that there is an actual team. The Atlantic League's rules specifically state that a stadium built to certain specifications must be built before a team franchise is awarded. The resurrected North American Soccer League [doesn't] have such strict standards and awarded VIP Sports & Entertainment a franchise on speculation.”
The league’s rules for new franchises was not listed on its website http://atlanticleague.com/atl-about.php , but the following statement was posted about league stadiums:
“New AL facilities will fully comply with ‘Facility Standards’ as defined by the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues Inc. (“NA”), the governing body of minor league baseball. Players will be assured of field conditions that meet or exceed the standards for Triple AAA classification NA facilities. Communities must demonstrate market size sufficient to support a minimum ballpark size of 5,000 to 7,500 seats.”
Colleen Gillis Snow, an attorney representing One Loudoun, said the team indeed has an agreement with the league and offered to provide proof to the Loudoun County Attorney's office in the form of a redacted copy.
“It has been executed," Snow said Tuesday. "I just literally got it in my hands ... It does exist. The Atlantic League understands the Hounds desire to be in this location and they have granted the franchise contingent on this approval being given.”
Snow also suggested the proposed ballpark is much farther away from the rookery than the stadium previously envisioned at Kincora and should not have the same fireworks and construction restrictions.
The planning commission forwarded the proposal to a work session for further review before commissioners make a recommendation to the board of supervisors.
[Editor's note: One Loudoun responded during Tuesday's hearing about whether the Hounds have a contractual agreement with the Atlantic League. That comment has been added.]
[Correction: The Hounds are not part of the Minor League Baseball, which is a specific league affilicated with Major League Baseball. The term is trademarked. The Atlantic League is an independent league.]