Cannons eye new stadium site

In hopes of landing a site near an interstate highway for his team’s new stadium, Potomac Cannons owner Art Silber said Monday that he’s willing to wait an extra year for the project to be completed.

According to Silber, the Cannons and the Prince William County Park Authority have been negotiating with a private interest from within the county about acquiring a piece of land for the ballpark. Last summer, Silber and the Park Authority announced they would equally split the $10 million bill for a stadium for the Class A Carolina League team.

The Cannons’ new home, planned for a lot just past the right-field corner of 19-year-old Pfitzner Stadium, was to be completed by the start of the 2004 season.

“This other site is really far superior to doing it adjacent to Pfitzner,” Silber said. “We’ve been working on this for at least six months, but I’m not going to make any comment or promote any speculation whatsoever about exactly where the site is. I apologize; I just can’t do it.

“But the site is so far superior that if it meant we would delay the stadium, it would definitely be worth it.”

Silber said the possible location is within the county and would cost the same — if not less — than the approved spot on county-owned land next to Pfitzner. He added that he and the Park Authority continue to work on the project together.

“We actually were approached after we made the announcement to get a new ballpark,” Silber said. “We were absolutely, very much pleasantly surprised.”

Park Authority Executive Director Peggy Thompson was not available for comment Monday.

In the 2002 season, the Cannons finished fifth in the eight-team Carolina League with an official of attendance of 182,059 for an average of 2,845 a game, counting season tickets that were not used. The Wilmington (Del.) Blue Rocks led the league with an average of 4,805 fans at a ballpark within sight of Interstate 95.

“The problem with [the Pfitzner] site is that an awful lot of people don’t know where it is because there’s no visibility,” Silber said of the current ballpark, located off the Prince William Parkway behind the McCoart Administration Center. “It’s not next to I-66 or I-95, which would be far more preferable. You’d like to be adjacent to one of those two main arteries.”

Though Silber said ballpark construction could begin as late as September of this year in time for an April 2004 opening, his first deadline may come March 15. By then, he hopes to let Carolina and California league officials know if the Cannons would be ready to play host to the 2004 Carolina-California All-Star Game in a new stadium. Otherwise, he said, the Cal League would keep the game for ’04 and Potomac could pick it back up for 2005.

Also, the Cannons’ exhibition game with their new major league affiliate, the Cincinnati Reds, likely would not be played until the opening of the new stadium — wherever and whenever that would be. Silber said a midseason opening would probably not happen “because of advanced tickets sold, ticket plans and everything else.”

Sunday at the Hyatt in Fair Lakes, the Cannons will hold their annual hot-stove dinner. Reds’ farm director Tim Naehring and new Potomac field manager Jayhawk Owens will speak to area baseball fans, and Silber wanted the privilege of saying a few words as well.

“I was really hoping to be able to make an announcement at the hot-stove banquet as to what is happening, although it does not appear that will happen,” he said. “Of course, it’s only Monday now and that could change.

“I think everybody is prepared right now to have the park right next to Pfitzner, but it being on an alternative site is what I’m waiting to find out. That’s not something we can control or the county can control. It’s not as if we don’t have a ballpark to play in, but we’re still pretty optimistic about this new possibility.”

Naehring, the top official in the Reds’ farm system, is not involved in the negotiations at all, but he has said the approved new ballpark was a factor in Cincinnati choosing to align with Potomac for the upcoming two seasons.

“We would like a new facility as soon as possible,” Naehring said. “We were under the impression a new stadium would happen in 2004, but that being said we’re open to meeting with Art and [general manager Max Baker] about anything and discussing what’s best for the franchise.”

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