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Residents rally, rant over stadium; City seeks better deal

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People for and against the multipurpose minor league baseball stadium proposed in Celebrate Virginia packed Fredericksburg City Council chambers during a meeting on Tuesday night that continued into early this morning. / Photo by Reza Marvashti

After listening to 38 speakers Tuesday night, the Fredericksburg City Council voted to have two members and city staff try to negotiate a proposal with the owners of the Hagerstown Suns to present at the council’s next meeting.

That action followed 2½ hours of public comment, the majority of which expressed opposition to the initial proposal that would have the city pay for construction of a $29.5 million multipurpose stadium.

Councilman Matt Kelly made the motion and Brad Ellis seconded the motion, which would mean the council would decide on Aug. 13 whether to move forward with the plan.

The council voted 5–1 to take that action with Councilman George Solley opposing. Councilwoman Kerry Devine was out of town.

“Unless its terms change dramatically, it is not a good deal for the city,” Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw said before the council vote early today.

She said any successful proposal needs much more investment from the team.

Ellis and Councilman Fred Howe were appointed to work with city staff on negotiations.

The Hagerstown Suns, the Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, have expressed interest in relocating to Fredericksburg if the city will build a stadium.

The proposal includes creating a special service tax district in which commercial property owners in Celebrate Virginia South and Central Park would pay as much as 32 cents per $100 of assessed value in addition to their real estate taxes until the debt is paid.

The city could also use a portion of state sales tax revenue collected at the stadium to pay down the debt.

The team would lease the stadium for 30 years, split the stadium naming rights with the city and annually contribute 15 percent of its net profits above $700,000.

The Suns ownership has offered $3 million to purchase land in Celebrate Virginia South for the stadium that would serve as a venue for other events in addition to minor league baseball.

At the hearing, Janell Kennedy said she and her son had Christmas presents resolved for the rest of their lives when they heard minor league baseball could be coming to town.

They were going to buy each other season tickets every year.

But she told the City Council that excitement isn’t enough to override her concerns about the financial aspects of the proposal.

Many speakers expressed concern about taking on as much as $33 million in general obligation bonds to build the stadium. That would translate into annual debt service of between $2 million and $2.5 million.

City resident Irv McGowan, who is a member of a competing baseball organization known as Play Ball VA!, brought posters to illustrate his view that the current plan is a bad deal for the city because it would result in a one-third of 1 percent return on investment.

City resident Anne Little brought an electronic petition signed by 80 city residents who oppose the stadium plan. She read each of their names aloud.

And Leslie Martin, a city resident and UMW professor, said her studies on stadiums revealed that they are an ineffective economic development tool.

The two city residents who spoke in favor of the proposal were supporters of baseball, but did not comment on the financial aspects.

The stadium public hearing began with Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn thanking everyone for their interest and introducing those who came to the meeting with him. That included Jeff Nelson, his brother-in-law and a former major league pitcher who is part owner of the Suns. It also included Andrés Galarraga, Quinn’s friend and a former major league slugger.

Quinn launched into several matters he wanted to clarify.

He said the owners would not support a plan that meant taxing property owners in Celebrate Virginia South and Central Park at the rate now discussed.

Quinn said he wouldn’t support a deal that taxed those commercial property owners at a rate higher than 15 cents per $100 of assessed value. He also said no financial deal has been struck at this point.

He also said he’s been in discussion with representatives from the U.S. National Slavery Museum about working with them and the property in Celebrate Virginia South where a museum was to have been built. He would like to honor African–American athletes as part of the stadium.

Quinn has said he would like to have a new stadium built in time for the 2015 season.

Two rallies took place outside City Hall before the stadium public hearing. About 100 people turned out in support of the stadium, most in some kind of baseball gear. A smaller counter-rally took place a few yards away.

The pro-stadium rally was organized by a group calling itself “Baseball in the Burg” and Tom Byrnes, who is the managing member of Rappahannock Baseball Initiative.

Darien Boutchyard of Spotsylvania County and his two sons showed up to support baseball, saying he thought the stadium would be good for the city.

David Robinson, 65, also from Spotsylvania, said the stadium would be good for area families and would be a healthy activity for local youth.

Tony Tallarico, general manager of Funland in Central Park, was with the group against the stadium deal. He said that as a competing business, it won’t benefit him.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972