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New baseball stadium proposal unveiled in Fredericksburg

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

Here is a rendering showing the layout of the proposed baseball complex at Celebrate Virginia South. Click here for a larger, PDF version of the image.

Hours before the Fredericksburg City Council went behind closed doors Tuesday to discuss negotiations on a proposed multipurpose stadium in the city, a new vision of the deal with the Hagerstown Suns was unveiled.

The Suns, a Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, have now partnered with New Jersey-based Diamond Nation to propose a Fredericksburg facility that the Suns majority owner says would be the “biggest and most unique baseball and softball entertainment and training complex” on the East Coast.

The Suns want to move to Fredericksburg if a deal can be reached with the city on financing. At a public hearing on July 9, city residents rejected the idea of a publicly financed stadium, estimated to cost $30 million.

Since then, the Suns have been crafting new plans for the 5,000-seat stadium. A letter signed by Silver Cos. executive Jud Honaker and shared with The Free Lance–Star on Tuesday revealed a significantly different deal in which the majority of the costs of the baseball complex would be privately financed.

The city of Fredericksburg is being asked to build an 1,800-space parking facility for the complex, with a cost estimated between $7 million and $8 million.

The city has not agreed to the deal but Fredericksburg City Manager Bev Cameron has been involved in ongoing communications with Suns officials.

After the July 9 public hearing, City Council voted to have council members Brad Ellis and Fred Howe work with Cameron to negotiate with the Suns. They all met once but since then, conversations have been between Cameron and the minor league team’s owners.

During a closed session of the council’s meeting Tuesday night, Cameron presented to the entire council the status of negotiations including what the city trio had conveyed to Suns representatives and what the Suns have proposed.

After the closed session, which ended at 11:13 p.m., Council took no action.

Councilman Matt Kelly had asked at the July 9 meeting that a decision be made on Tuesday as to whether the project was going forward after months of discussions. However, Cameron said neither side was ready for that step.

“Negotiations are ongoing,” he said. “Neither party is at a point to take public action.

“At the appropriate time, there will be public action by the City Council. I cannot estimate when that day will be. I hope soon.”

He said, however, that the issue should be on the agenda for the council’s next meeting on Aug. 27, presumably at least for an update on the status.

The Suns’ original proposal called for a multipurpose stadium that would be used for Suns home games and other events including concerts. The revised proposal includes at least five adjacent artificial turf fields that could be converted into more, smaller fields.

Diamond Nation, which runs a similar training and competition facility in New Jersey for softball and baseball, would run camps, leagues, tournaments and a variety of other events at the complex.

Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn works with Diamond Nation on its electronic business strategy and an online product called Club Diamond Nation. Among the well-known baseball and softball players involved in the business are Jack Cust Jr., Barry Larkin and Jennie Finch, Quinn said.

Diamond Nation has been looking to expand, and it forged a partnership with Quinn on the proposed Fredericksburg complex.

The complex could be built on the 38-acre site that was once proposed for the U.S. National Slavery Museum. The city of Fredericksburg has been trying to sell that land because of unpaid real estate taxes.

Baseball organizers have met with former Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder, who has spearheaded the slavery museum, to discuss a negotiated sale of the land.

As part of the revised proposal, the city has been asked to purchase an adjacent roughly 15 acres for the parking lot. The city could use the lot for events such as the annual Marine Corps Historic Half marathon races and it would be used for the baseball complex.

Honaker, president of commercial development for the Silver Cos., which is developing Celebrate Virginia South, said the money for the parking lot could be raised in a bond issuance. It’s possible that the city could charge for parking at Suns games, which would raise some of the money needed for debt service.

If the city decided to create a special tax district on Central Park and Celebrate Virginia South to cover the debt service on a parking lot costing between $7 million and $8 million, the maximum cost of the service district would be 13 cents per $100 of assessed value, according to a letter Honaker was expected to send soon to affected property owners. The plan that was widely criticized at the July 9 meeting called for a rate of as much as 32 cents for business owners there.

Six people spoke at Tuesday’s council meeting about the baseball proposal, all offering their support. That included two business owners who said they back it even if it means an increase in their taxes because of the tax district.

In his letter, Honaker asks Central Park and Celebrate Virginia businesses for their support. He also lays out the potential economic impact the complex could have on the city.

He wrote that it would be “the most unique baseball destination in the entire country,” and argued that affected businesses would need to attract only a small percentage of the new visitors to recoup the additional taxes.

Honaker estimated that about 837,000 people would visit the complex annually for Suns games, other stadium events and the many camps, leagues and tournaments that Diamond Nation would run.

He also suggested the economic impact on Fredericksburg—including direct and indirect spending—at about $83 million annually, predicting the complex would result in about 28,000 hotel-room nights annually, mostly for people in town for Diamond Nation camps and tournaments.

“We believe that this presents a win-win opportunity for the Suns, Diamond Nation, the City and you [the local businesses] in both Central Park and Celebrate Virginia,” Honaker wrote in his letter. “We respectfully request your support.”

Howe said before the meeting that he was “very excited about the team’s expansion of the original concept.”

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972