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Baseball backer critical of city-Suns deal

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One of the original leaders of an effort to bring professional baseball to the Fredericksburg area has become a vocal critic of the stadium proposal that city officials are now evaluating.

Bob Hagan, formerly president of the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors, helped lead a volunteer group formed last year to bring minor league baseball to Fredericksburg.

Late last year, Hagan received a call from a reporter in Winchester who had covered the failed efforts of the Hagerstown Suns to relocate to that Virginia city and who had heard about the baseball initiative in Fredericksburg.

That was followed by a call from Bruce Quinn, majority owner of the Suns, a Class-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. The Suns play in an outdated stadium in Hagerstown, Md., and are looking for a new home. The team expressed interest in Fredericksburg and submitted a lease proposal to the city.

For several months, Hagan worked closely on the proposed deal with the Suns, city officials and executives with the Silver Cos., which is developing the Celebrate Virginia South project where the 5,000-seat multi-purpose stadium is proposed.

In March, Hagan stopped working on the deal with the Suns and is now openly critical of it.

“I think this could be disastrous for the city,” Hagan said.

The current deal calls for the Suns to put up $3 million for the city to purchase the land for the stadium in Celebrate Virginia. The team would then pay the city $105,000 in annual rent, half the naming-rights proceeds and 15 percent of all net profits above $700,000.

A report put out by Brailsford & Dunlavey estimates that the city would get $35,000 a year from the profit-sharing component of the deal. If that estimate proves accurate, the Suns’ net profits would be about $900,000 a year.

Hagan doesn’t think the team would be putting in enough rent. He also doesn’t think it is fair that Central Park and Celebrate Virginia property owners would be required to pay an additional real estate tax to finance much of the costs of the ballpark and its built-in, year-round restaurant.

He thinks that the $30 million price tag for the stadium is too high based on an analysis of comparable newer stadiums in other markets that have cost about $25 million. Debt service on a $30 million stadium is estimated at $1.84 million.

Hagan has also pointed to the Suns’ attendance, which has declined each year since the current ownership bought the team in late 2010 and is the lowest in the South Atlantic League.

Quinn said the team’s current home, Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium, was built in 1930 and lacks the amenities capable of adequately hosting a minor league baseball team or providing a memorable fan experience. He also said attendance has been hurt by the ongoing discussions about relocating the team.

Quinn, who is also continuing to talk to Hagerstown officials about a new stadium, is confident the team could hit the projected average attendance of 4,300 per game in a new Fredericksburg ballpark.

Fredericksburg City Councilman Matt Kelly has stressed that the deal that is currently on the table is not set in stone. The City Council is meeting with Quinn on Monday, and a public hearing on the deal is scheduled for July 9.

Things could change significantly before a deal is approved, if it ever is.

Hagan said he has received interest from other Major League Baseball-affiliated teams, though he hasn’t said which ones. If the Suns deal doesn’t work out, Hagan plans to challenge the Washington Nationals on that team’s refusal to allow any other MLB-affiliated team in Fredericksburg because of baseball territorial rights.

Hagan thinks other teams ought to be able to submit proposals to move to Fredericksburg and believes there will be better opportunities. He hopes Hagerstown officials approve a new stadium there, but doubts that will happen because of budgetary challenges.

Hagan continues to advocate for local professional baseball through an organization called Play Ball VA! that also includes former Spotsylvania Supervisor Hap Connors and developer Irv McGowan.

Hagan also recently filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the city of Fredericksburg asking for all City Council-member emails on baseball in the past year.

Bill Freehling: 540/374-5405