RSS feed of this blog

Fredericksburg baseball complex could serve all ages

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.

Diamond Nation’s interest in Fredericksburg as a home for the company’s second baseball and softball complex came together quickly over the past month.

Diamond Nation has been at its current home in Flemington, N.J., since 2009. Its complex includes six turf fields that can be converted into 12 smaller fields. It attracts baseball and softball teams from all over the country looking to compete against other squads and hone their skills with coaches who have played collegiately and professionally.

Hagerstown Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn, who has started several successful high-tech businesses involving computer hardware and software, is a consultant to a business affiliated with Diamond Nation called Club Diamond Nation. It provides online baseball and softball training and social networking.

Quinn has been working on a plan to relocate the Suns, a Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, to Fredericksburg if a financing deal can be worked out with the city on a multipurpose stadium in Celebrate Virginia South.

Quinn was recently talking about the potential move to Fredericksburg with Diamond Nation President and General Manager Keith Dilgard. The conversation turned to the potential synergies of pairing a facility such as Diamond Nation’s with a minor league baseball stadium such as the one the Suns envision for Fredericksburg.

At a softball or amateur tournament held at such a facility, the early-round games could be played on the turf fields, while the championship could be held in front of as many as 5,000 fans at a minor league stadium.

Enticed, Dilgard and other Diamond Nation principals traveled to Fredericksburg to look at the site in Celebrate Virginia South where the Suns would build their new stadium if a deal can be reached with the city.

Dilgard said he immediately loved the location. He said visitors to Diamond Nation in New Jersey regularly ask where they can eat, stay and be entertained between baseball and softball games. He said Celebrate Virginia and Central Park have many opportunities for all of those.

Dilgard is optimistic that a Diamond Nation facility in Fredericksburg, which would have five or six turf fields that could be converted into additional smaller fields, could draw more than 500,000 visits a year. Another 300,000 visitors annually are projected to attend Suns games and other events at the stadium.

Dilgard said the complex could bring in youth, high school and college teams from all over the country, though it would also be available for local leagues and events.

The latest on financing

Before the vision of the Suns and Diamond Nation becomes a reality, a deal must be reached on who would pay for the complex.

Quinn is estimating the cost of the entire complex, which could be built on the site where the U.S. National Slavery Museum was once slated to go if that land can be acquired, at between about $37 million and $38 million.

Quinn has asked the city of Fredericksburg to pay for the 1,800-space, 15-acre parking lot for the baseball complex. Quinn said he’s gotten several bids for the surface lot putting the cost at between about $7 million and $8 million, not including land acquisition. The city may be able to obtain the land at a significant discount.

Quinn said he has proposed that the Suns would staff and maintain the parking lot, and that the city and team would split 50–50 the revenues generated from parking and any additional revenue-producing uses on the lot.

Quinn said he has also asked the city to return tax revenues generated by the baseball complex, provide police and fire protection at events and pay for utilities. He believes the complex will help jump-start the Celebrate Virginia development and have a substantial economic impact on existing businesses and the city’s tax revenues.

Fredericksburg City Council discussed the potential deal in closed session Tuesday night. The council agreed to continue negotiating with the Suns, but has not voted on a final proposal. The city has released few details about what it is willing to offer the Suns.

The city could pay for the debt service on bonds issued for the parking facility with a new real estate tax on Central Park and Celebrate Virginia property owners of no more than 13 cents per $100 of assessed value, wrote Silver Cos. executive Jud Honaker, whose firm is developing Celebrate Virginia, in a letter to affected businesses. A copy of the letter was provided to The Free Lance–Star. An initial proposal for the stadium called for a tax of as much as 32 cents.

Fredericksburg City Council member Matt Kelly, who has been the council’s most-vocal proponent of a Suns deal, said the city should look at all potential sources of revenue for the lot: money from the Virginia Railway Express gas tax, parking fees from Suns games, leases signed for commuter parking and state sales tax “clawbacks” from the project.

The Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization looked at Celebrate Virginia South as a location for commuter parking about five or six years ago but ultimately chose to expand the Gordon Road lot in Spotsylvania County, said FAMPO Administrator Lloyd Robinson.

Robinson noted that commuters parking at Celebrate Virginia would have to go all the way through Central Park to get to Interstate 95, though Kelly said a plan that is in the works for collector–distributor roads between U.S. 17 and State Route 3 could make the site better for commuter parking.

The city expects to collect between about $1.6 million and $1.7 million in revenue from the VRE gas tax in fiscal year 2013, said Assistant City Manager Mark Whitley. Transit operations, debt service on the Sophia Street parking garage and the VRE subsidy are the three biggest uses. The money must be used for transportation purposes; it’s unclear whether the proposed parking lot at the stadium would qualify.

Bill Freehling: 540/374-5405