Hill leery of Dulles site
June 27, 2004
The Washington Times By Eric Fisher
Baseball advocates on both sides of the Potomac River have spent years trying to convey how much the Washington area has evolved from its status as merely a government town.
Despite its renaissance, the local area still receives a sizable jolt of energy from Capitol Hill. Hotels, restaurants, cab drivers, caterers, all three area airports and countless other establishments rise and fall on what the federal government is doing both day and night.
And much of Capitol Hill is greeting Northern Virginia's plan to put a ballpark near Dulles International Airport with either marked indifference or outright disbelief.
Literally hundreds of lobbyists, trade association employees and politicians make a regular habit of attending games and concerts at MCI Center and FedEx Field. The purposes vary from simple schmoozing to formal fundraising, but the luxury suites, club seats and front-row perches are where the political elite see, are seen and do business.
Even a recent MCI Center appearance by pop star Madonna, a performer with little obvious appeal to the older demographics that generally populate Congress or its affiliated entities, generated more than a dozen in-arena political fundraisers.
But with a distance of more than 20 miles from downtown Washington and some of the worst rush-hour traffic anywhere in the United States, the Dulles site provides no such obvious utility for people on the Hill. In fact, it is being seen by political insiders as no better an option than Camden Yards, a hot spot in the mid-1990s that now has been largely abandoned by official Washington.
"I can't imagine how I would find a Loudoun County ballpark useful as a business tool," said Jim Rowland, senior vice president of government affairs for the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America. "It's hard enough to get people even to Georgetown at night for an event."
Echoed District lobbyist Robb Watters, president of The Madison Group: "I think it's absolutely ridiculous to think we're going out there. You can't get staffers out there, you can't get clients out there and you definitely can't get elected officials out there. And getting rail is going to help only so much. The issue is time, and so many people around [the Hill] are still working at 7 p.m."
Of course, the Virginia baseball lobby and the commonwealth's Congressional delegation disagree vehemently, providing yet another forum for the District-Northern Virginia baseball scrum that has become major water cooler fodder around the region.
The William Collins-led Virginia Baseball Club, which estimates that less than one in seven fans attending a Dulles ballpark game would come from Maryland or the District, has not drilled down its market research to individual neighborhoods, such as Capitol Hill.
But VBC spokesman Jerry Burkot, himself a former Congressional press liaison, said, "All those years I worked up there, I saw tons of people going home every night to Northern Virginia. It happens. It's absolutely real. A very sizable population is heading this way from there every night."
The Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority also has formally briefed the commonwealth's Washington delegation on the Dulles effort. Ardent supporters of the cause when it was still centered on Pentagon City, including Rep. Tom Davis and Sen. George Allen, remain so.
While Capitol Hill is only one of many critical sectors of the region, this particular avenue bears watching. The Redskins, Wizards, Capitals and Maryland basketball all rely on Capitol Hill as users and purchasers of premium seating. But as many of their ticket prices have begun to soar far beyond the reach of federal political gift limits, the Hill is all too eager for baseball and its much lower price points and abundant slate of games to help fill the increasing void.
Virginia, meanwhile, is seeking to do something quite different and rely heavily on the robust corporate presence in the immediate area surrounding the proposed Dulles site for high-end tickets.
Some members of the commonwealth's baseball lobby who don't fully agree with the more separatist stance of Collins, Loudoun County officials and others believe the three-year interim period at RFK Stadium would help engender not only Capitol Hill but all of the District to Virginia's brand of the Expos. The horrid showings of the Tennessee Oilers in Memphis and Carolina Hurricanes in Greensboro while they waited for their new homes leads one to immediately question that notion.
"It has to be convenient for us and it has to be real, something people see value in," said Loren Monroe, vice president and lobbyist for the District-based firm of Barbour, Griffith & Rogers.