Owners of 101 acres on Valley Pike see property as possible location
By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- The Hesters love baseball.
The Winchester family holds season tickets to Washington Nationals games. Jeffrey D. Hester's oldest two sons played baseball at John Handley High School and one umpires at games across the region.
When the Winchester Economic Development Authority sought to build a minor league stadium in the city, Hester's son Brian stood as the lone supporter of the proposal at the public hearing on the EDA's bid to acquire land in Jim Barnett Park.
The Hesters watched the issue develop since city officials announced the proposal in January.
"[Brian Hester] was very interested and excited about it coming to Winchester," Jeffrey Hester recalled.
The family's hopes for a baseball stadium in the park ended when City Council voted down the EDA's request earlier this month.
But in the days before the vote, the Hesters came up with another possibility. The family had for years tried to develop 101 acres fronting the 7100 block of Valley Pike (U.S. 11) north of Middletown Elementary School and Lord Fairfax Community College, Hester said.
The Friday before the council vote the Hesters came up with the idea of donating 10 acres of the 101-acre site.
"It would be a win-win situation," Hester said. "Even though we wouldn't get anything for the 10 acres, the 90 acres that would remain would become more valuable so it just makes sense."
The family complimented Brian Hester's vocal support of the stadium proposal even as "the lone wolf" was outnumbered by the opposition, Hester said.
But even though Winchester may not see a stadium built, the Hesters wanted professional baseball to come to the general area.
"We started thinking about it a little bit and said well why don't we make an offer to see if that can help," Hester said.
Jeffrey Hester worked with Realtor Matt McHale who then contacted the owner of the Hagerstown (Md.) Suns, a minor league farm club team for the Nationals. The Suns had been looking for a new stadium and the clubowner's name appeared in a document released by the city to the public prior to the vote.
The Hesters never heard back from Suns owner, Bruce Quinn, Jeffrey Hester said. So he called EDA Director Jim Deskins and the agency board member Larry Omps the day after the vote. Hester said he made the offer through Deskins.
"I got word back that Mr. Quinn was not interested in it because it was so far out of town," Hester recalled.
Hester said he also contacted people he knew in Frederick County about the offer to be "proactive."
The Frederick County Industrial Development Authority has not considered nor has any matters pending related to Hester's offer, according to County Administrator John R. Riley Jr., who serves as the IDA's secretary/treasurer.
Patrick Barker, executive director of the Winchester-Frederick County Economic Development Commission, said he has heard about Hester's offer but the agency has not been directly involved in the matter.
The family continues to hold out hope the land offer would attract a developer seeking to build a baseball stadium for any team.
"From my perspective our land has advantages and disadvantages," Hester said. "The advantages of course I'm going to try to talk up more."
The land is close to Interstate 66, which Hester noted eventually would extend into West Virginia via that state's Corridor H highway project. Hester said he sees the property as accessible from Valley Pike and even an exit ramp from Interstate 81 similar to those at the Wolf Trap and other venues.
A stadium would benefit not only Frederick County but its neighbors, Hester said. With that in mind, Hester envisioned all the localities giving support to bringing a stadium and a team to the region. Hester once served on Opportunity Virginia, a regional economic development panel created under then Gov. George Allen.
"I might be dreaming here and it would not necessarily have to be our property, it could be any property deeper into the state of Virginia because the further in from the state border we are the more of the economic benefit would be enjoyed by the entire state," Hester said.