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Nationals Ready To Leave Potomac

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The Potomac Nationals’ quest for a new ballpark appears to be taking them 35 miles south to Fredericksburg, Va.

In a letter to the franchise’s friends, fans and business partners, the team’s family of owners revealed their plan to move the high Class A Carolina League club from Woodbridge, Va., where it has played in Pfitzner Stadium since 1984. The P-Nats are joining the city of Fredericksburg in a letter of intent that would lead to the construction of a new ballpark near the Celebrate Virginia concert venue just off Interstate 95. The franchise would like to move into a 5,000-seat stadium, estimated to cost $35 million, in time for the 2020 season.

“As almost all of you know, we have been seeking a site for a new facility for several years, have expended hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process as our current facility falls far short of meeting the basic stadium requirements of Minor League Baseball,” the Silber family said in the letter.

Potomac has a waiver that would allow it to stay at Pfitzner Stadium through 2020 if needed. The Fredericksburg site would keep the club within 60 miles of the parent club’s home at Nationals Park. Under the agreement, the stadium would be privately financed by the team, and Fredericksburg would not incur any debt, according to the Free-Lance Star of Fredericksburg. The team would then have Fredericksburg in its name.

“Unlike most stadium projects, this deal, as outlined in the [letter], will not be built by Fredericksburg,” Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw said in a news release issued by the city. “Instead, the baseball club will finance, build and maintain the stadium. The city will be able to use the multipurpose stadium for community events on non-baseball days for the next 30 years.”

The Silber family said in its letter that “the Northern Virginia community is extraordinary in its sophistication, education and commercial success. We know you will be excited to join us and partner together as we continue to provide you with an extraordinary entertainment venue and the opportunity to see the future stars of the Washington Nationals.”

The Potomac franchise has considered moves throughout Northern Virginia since before the Washington Nationals existed. Since the team was known as the Prince William Cannons in the late 1990s, it has looked at possible stadium deals. The franchise began in Alexandria, Va., in 1978.

Last year, a plan to keep the P-Nats in Prince William County and move to a new ballpark off I-95 fell through.

“It’s very sad to see them leave,” Prince William County Board of Supervisor chairman Corey Stewart told InsideNova.com. “I can’t blame them. Unfortunately, we could not get the stadium built, and they had to look elsewhere. They told us if no stadium was built, they’d have no choice but to leave the county—and they were telling the truth.”

Like the failed Prince William site, the Fredericksburg location would increase the visibility of a franchise that has played a few miles removed from a major interstate in a complex adjacent to three local softball fields.

The proposed site “fulfills our desire to keep the team in Northern Virginia and have a first-class facility for our fans on 1-95,” owner Art Silber told InsideNova.com. “It’s an extraordinary location.”

The Fredericksburg area has turned down previous chances to add a minor league baseball team, most recently in 2015 when the Nationals-affiliated Hagerstown Suns of the low Class A South Atlantic League tried to move to a site near what is now the Carolina League team’s planned location, but the land cost was greater than originally estimated. Two years earlier, nearby Spotsylvania County rejected an offer from Suns owner Bruce Quinn, who declined to negotiate further.

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As for the deal with the P-Nats, if the Fredericksburg City Council approves the letter of intent, it would lead to a 120-day study period for both the team and the city, according to the Free-Lance Star. A public hearing would be scheduled during that time.

Fredericksburg lies within the Washington Nationals’ territory, but as a Nationals affiliate it should have no trouble receiving a waiver.

Meanwhile, the Double-A Eastern League’s Richmond Flying Squirrels continue to play at The Diamond, which opened in 1985. A Fredericksburg team would be about 60 miles north of Richmond and might add to the urgency in bringing a new stadium to Virginia’s capital city.

“It’s the people that are 25, 30 miles away [from Richmond],” Eastern League president Joe McEacharn said to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “If (the relocation to Fredericksburg) were to happen, and we remain in The Diamond—great fan base, great community, and things are working—but we’re holding it together with Band-Aids. And then somebody at the halfway point says, ‘Geez, I can go up to that new fan-friendly ballpark in Fredericksburg, or I can (attend a game at The Diamond).’ Those are the folks where we could actually have an adverse impact.”

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