Council set to begin stadium discussions
COMPLETE COVERAGE: View all related stories and images on the Fredericksburg baseball proposal
Monday evening, Fredericksburg Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw will meet officials from Minor League Baseball’s Hagerstown Suns for the first time.
It also will be the first time the entire City Council sits face-to-face with the group proposing that the city build a $30 million stadium that would be home to the Suns, a Class-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals.
It is a meeting some council members say is long overdue.
In addition to being the venue for the Suns’ home games, the plan is for the 5,000-seat stadium to host events throughout the year, such as concerts, festivals, and possibly other sports events such as professional soccer and professional lacrosse.
But whether the plan gets off the ground will hinge, in large part, on what council hears from residents during a July 9 public hearing on the proposal.
On Monday, the council is expected to present the team with a memorandum of understanding for consideration and a proposal for extending the exclusivity agreement that would otherwise expire that day, Councilman Fred Howe said.
He proposes extending the exclusivity agreement to the end of the year to allow the city and team time to fully explore the proposal and finalize the agreement if that’s the direction the project moves.
The proposed extension also requires the team to deal exclusively with Fredericksburg as far as a relocation site, but allows it to continue its negotiations with city officials in Hagerstown, Md.
The draft memorandum of understanding simply formalizes the basics, stating that the city and team are exploring the proposal and that either side can end negotiations at any time.
It notes that the Suns propose an initial capital investment of $3 million as stated in a May 13, 2013 lease proposal that has not been made public.
The team had asked that the city agree to reimburse it the cost of its fee to apply to Minor League Baseball for permission to relocate if the city backs out of the plan.
Howe said the fee is $30,000. “That’s not going to happen,” he said of the reimbursement proposal.
The council has already allocated $50,000 to have the stadium proposal vetted by bond counsel, financial consultants and leasing experts. The city’s Economic Development Authority has spent $27,000 for a market analysis and financial analysis.
The Suns’ goal is to have a stadium ready in time for the start of the 2015 season, but meeting that deadline will require a lot of pieces to fall perfectly into place.
Team officials recently provided a rough timeline to the city that, along with a separate one created by City Manager Bev Cameron, will help direct the conversation during Monday’s meeting.
The two outlines are pretty much in sync, but steps such as acquiring land, working out details of a lease, getting financing, and creating a special tax district all could slow the process, Cameron said.
The team would like to finalize the memorandum of understanding with the city by July 31, have the lease approved by Oct. 30 and stadium financing in place by Dec. 1 to play the first game by April 1, 2015.
The council isn’t expected to take any formal actions on Monday, but on July 9 could decide to drop the project, continue negotiations, or move it forward by referring the proposal to the Planning Commission.
The Planning Commission would need to decide whether to recommend amending the city’s Comprehensive Plan since it currently does not mention stadiums in its list of acceptable facilities, Planning Director Chuck Johnston said. The commissioners would also need to decide whether to support adding the $30 million stadium to the city’s Capital Improvements Plan, which outlines major city projects.
The Suns propose the city foot the bill for construction of the stadium, which would be paid off over 30 years.
They, in turn, have offered to provide $3 million for the land, split the stadium naming rights 50–50, contribute 15 percent of net profits over $700,000 and make an annual lease payment of $105,000.
The Planning Commission could act as soon as Aug. 14 if council refers the project to it on July 9. Commissioners would hold a public hearing as part of their process.
The Fredericksburg City Council has adjusted its schedule because of the Minor League Baseball proposal. Below are the next steps.
Monday, July 1, 5:30 p.m.—Council holds a work session to meet with Hagerstown Suns officials. The meeting is open to the public and is scheduled for Room 218 of City Hall, 715 Princess Anne St.
July 9, 7 p.m.—Council will hold five successive public hearings in Council Chambers following a 5:30 p.m. session to cover other business. The baseball stadium proposal will be last. Afterward, council could vote to send the proposal to the Planning Commission.
Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972