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City officials crafting new stadium plan

COMPLETE COVERAGE: View all related stories and images on the Fredericksburg baseball proposal

Fredericksburg officials are now focused on developing a plan for a mostly privately financed stadium that could be home to the Hagerstown Suns minor league baseball team.

City Councilman Fred Howe said the city is now looking into all economic development tools it has at its disposal to support the potential deal with the Suns, a Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals that has expressed an interest in relocating.

Though Howe didn’t go into specifics, past deals to recruit businesses have involved the city waiving or reducing certain taxes and returning new tax revenues that the business generated for the city.

If the new package can be worked out, it would represent a flipping of the script from the original proposal, which called for the Suns to contribute to the costs of a publicly financed stadium through lease payments and revenue sharing. That plan involved a significant new real estate tax on Central Park and parts of Celebrate Virginia South.

Numerous area residents spoke out against the idea of a publicly financed stadium during a July 9 public hearing before the City Council, but there was general agreement that a minor league baseball team would be a positive for the city.

Howe said he and other council members heard both messages loud and clear and are now attempting to negotiate a deal that the public can support. He said that the new deal being looked at is more consistent with prior business deals that involve the private sector, not the taxpayer, primarily shouldering the risk.

Howe met Monday for the first time with the other members of the city’s negotiating committee, fellow Councilman Brad Ellis and City Manager Bev Cameron. He said the three want to meet with Suns’ officials in the next couple of weeks to discuss all options.

Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn could not be reached for comment Tuesday about the new proposal. Quinn has previously indicated a willingness to negotiate with the city and has said he believes the tax district plan as originally proposed was not fair to the affected property owners.

Suns attorney John J. Ferrante said in an email that Cameron proposed a July 30 meeting between the city and the team. He said team officials are available to meet that day, but before committing to the date, they want the city to propose “well in advance” at least three financing scenarios for the stadium, which he said the city will own.

Ferrante said in the email that the proposals should include “some level of public financing to qualify for the state sales tax clawback.”

This past spring, the Virginia General Assembly added Fredericksburg to the list of localities that can keep a percentage of state sales taxes generated at a stadium to service the debt used to build the facility. That is the “clawback” Ferrante referenced in his email.

The matter is expected to be back before City Council at its next meeting Aug. 13.

Howe said the focus now is on coming up with a financing package, with land acquisition a secondary priority. He said all the sites being discussed are along Interstate 95 in Celebrate Virginia South.

Howe personally doesn’t think the city should attempt to acquire the 38-acre National Slavery Museum site for the stadium, as doing so would be too complicated and time-consuming due to the ongoing legal battle and other stakeholders that are involved.

Bill Freehling: 540/374-5424