Potomac Nationals OK with Suns relocation here
COMPLETE COVERAGE: View all related stories and images on the Fredericksburg baseball proposal
The longtime owner of the Potomac Nationals wouldn’t object to the Hagerstown Suns relocating to a Fredericksburg stadium that would be 26 miles away from the P–Nats’ planned new home.
The P–Nats get most of their fans from Prince William and Fairfax counties and don’t draw a lot from the Fredericksburg area, said Art Silber, a retired banker who has owned the Woodbridge-based team since 1990. For much of that time, Silber was the team’s first-base coach, wearing the No. 42 uniform of childhood idol Jackie Robinson.
Silber said the trend in professional baseball is for major league teams to locate their minor league affiliates closer to the big-league operation. That makes it cheaper and easier to transfer players back and forth between teams and also helps boost the local fan base.
The P–Nats are the high Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, which is one step above the Suns in the major league baseball team’s minor league system. The Suns might relocate to Fredericksburg if the city approves construction of a $30 million, publicly financed stadium to open for the 2015 season.
MORE: For complete coverage of Fredericksburg’s pursuit of a team and stadium, please click here.
Like the Suns, the P–Nats play in a stadium that is now considered outdated, the publicly owned G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium off Prince William Parkway. They average around 3,000 fans a game.
Last year, Silber presented renderings of a proposed $30 million, 6,000-seat stadium to be built next to Wegmans supermarket in the Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center development off Interstate 95. That price tag doesn’t include the cost of land acquisition or parking.
A PRIME LOCATION
Silber chose the Potomac Town Center site because of its location right off I–95 at Exit 156 and all the development that already exists there, including the popular grocery store and a large variety of stores and eateries.
He said he’s found that stadiums do well in existing projects but don’t tend to spur a lot of new ancillary developments on their own.
The state has agreed to cover the costs of a $15 million parking garage at the development that could be used by park-and-ride commuters during weekdays, as well as fans going to the stadium on nights and weekends. Silber envisions commuters getting back from work and heading to the ballpark.
The P–Nats would finance and own the stadium themselves, Silber said. He said he has been discussing the possibility of a new stadium with Prince William County officials for years, but said the recent recession eliminated the possibility of a publicly financed facility.
Because of the development’s prime location off I–95, Silber thinks he can fetch a naming-rights deal that brings in $1.5 million a year at the new stadium. That would cover most of his roughly $2.1 million in debt service, and the remainder would come from ticket sales, concessions, additional advertising and more.
Under the deal currently being discussed in Fredericksburg, the city would split the naming rights proceeds equally with the Suns. The two most likely sites for the Fredericksburg stadium are both in Celebrate Virginia South and are highly visible from I–95.
The city is projecting that the naming rights deal would be for $200,000 a year, significantly lower than what Silber is targeting.
Silber said companies are eager to advertise in newer minor league stadiums, which have become popular family destinations. He said people attending P–Nats games spend just shy of $25 per person on the price of a ticket, parking, food and beverage, and concessions.
He’s hoping the new stadium is ready for the team to start playing there in 2015 but thinks 2016 is more likely.
A DIFFERENT DEAL
The deal that Fredericksburg officials are considering differs significantly from the one Silber is working on.
The Suns have agreed to pay $105,000 in rent a year for 30 years, give the city half the naming rights revenue, share 15 percent of the team’s net profits above $700,000 with the city, and cover all the maintenance and capital improvements costs beyond $100,000 a year that the city would contribute.
The Suns would also put up $3 million to acquire the land for the stadium in Celebrate Virginia South.
The city would then issue about $30 million in bonds to construct the stadium, which would include a number of family-friendly amenities and a sports-themed restaurant that would be open year-round and feature sports-related games. Concerts, other sporting games, festivals and a variety of other events would also be held at the stadium.
Under the deal being discussed, a large part of the estimated $1.84 million in annual debt service would be covered by a new real estate tax on commercial property owners in Celebrate Virginia South and Central Park. That new tax could be as high as 32 cents per $100 of assessed value, which would be on top of the city’s 74-cent real estate rate.
The council could decide to pledge more revenues from the stadium if the deal gets approved, which would mean a lower tax rate on the service district.
A July 9 public hearing is scheduled on the stadium issue. The council could vote then to proceed with the next phase of the discussions or decide against moving forward with the plan.
The Suns continue to talk with Hagerstown, Md., officials about a new stadium deal there as Fredericksburg evaluates the local proposal.
Bill Freehling: 540/374-5405
MEETING SET WITH SUNS OWNER
The Fredericksburg City Council will hold a special called meeting with the owner of the Hagerstown Suns at 5:30 p.m. Monday, City Manager Bev Cameron said.
The Suns are in discussions with the city to relocate from Maryland if the city will build a publicly financed stadium estimated to cost $30 million.
The meeting will be open to the public.