Republican incumbent Sean T. Connaughton, so far, is running toward the November election like most other candidates, waiting until Labor Day when the unofficial election season begins, before he buckles down for his reelection bid for at-large chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors.
His challenger, Democrat Rick Coplen, has already held two press conferences to share his ideas about lowering taxes and spurring economic development.
Coplen told commuters in the early morning slug lines at the Horner Road commuter lot Friday that they’d be at work already if his plan to create an “Innovation East” off Telegraph Road succeeds.
Coplen said he would use six acres of county-owned land, formerly used as a bus lot, to build a new home for the Potomac Cannons baseball team. This, he said, would spark economic development of more than 800 acres of privately-held land around it.
“I don’t think there is a vision out there by my opponent or anyone else on how we get there,” said Coplen.
But Connaughton said the plan is too expensive and Coplen is wrong about who owns the land. He and an attorney for Prince William said the county traded it to the state in an agreement that precludes the county from using it.
Coplen is sticking by his proposition.
“I stand by the assertion I made earlier. . . that?PWC can reobtain that land from the state for the?good of the Prince William public,” Coplen wrote in an e-mail Monday afternoon.
Coplen said the property is within walking distance of the commuter lot, and it could be swapped for land closer to the commuter lot. But Connaughton said it is not walkable; the properties are not adjacent so the site would drive up stadium costs by 50 percent, and that is just an initial estimate, he said.
Coplen said the site is walkable, within “several hundred yards” of the commuter lot, and Cannons owner Art Silber might even provide a shuttle. He said Silber went on record with him that he “would be very happy to be part of Innovation East.”
Both men said they have walked the site.
The stadium would create the necessary draw to lure business, Coplen said. Innovation East could be focused on national defense and homeland security research and development, Coplen said.
Connaughton said the county board looked at the property two years ago when it had a large surplus, and he has a thick file to prove it. The estimates came in at $15 million to $20 million to purchase 300 acres and more than double that to develop. That would raise taxes.
Coplen said few or no public dollars would go into the plan — the private sector would develop around the stadium. To attract the private dollars, a university or college could be partnered with to build a satellite campus, and also the county could establish an international free trade zone, which gives a tax break on parts and equipment sold overseas, he said.
Connaughton said the market won’t sustain that scope of development.
“It’s land, and having available land doesn’t necessarily mean the agencies or businesses are going to pick and move away,” he said.
Also, if another Innovation comes online, the county begins to compete against itself — both at Innovation and against private realtors, he said. It would steal opportunities away from the U.S. 1 revitalization efforts, from other vacant office parks and the current [email protected] William, he said.
Coplen said the original Innovation targets biosciences and could be marketed better, but a new Innovation East would go after homeland security and national defense research.
“It’s a completely different market,” he said.
Connaughton said the county markets Innovation and other land for those uses already.
County Economic Development Director Martin Briley said his department markets successfully to every appropriate opportunity county-wide.
“We are lucky to have about 150 companies announce coming here over the last five and a half years, of which 135 are not at Innovation,” he said.
Coplen said his plan is for the long term. The stadium could be built in a year after a citizens committee reviewed the plans, but it would take 20 to 25 years for all of the development to come.
“Everything should be looked at for having a positive sum game,” Coplen said. “There’s plenty of economic development to go around.”
Connaughton said he is positive as well.
“When the economy begins to turn around, which is just starting, we’re going to see a great deal more of high quality economic development in the east and the west. I can almost guarantee that,” he said.