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Stadium gains key supporters

The addition of Diamond Nation to the proposal for a multipurpose stadium in Celebrate Virginia South was a “game changer” for Fredericksburg Councilwoman Bea Paolucci.

And when she learned Monday that Ron Rosner, founder of Rosner Auto Group, is becoming an investor in the project that would bring the Hagerstown Suns to Fredericksburg and that he is purchasing the stadium naming rights, her support increased.

Paolucci was among the majority of City Council who didn’t support the relocation of the minor league Suns to Fredericksburg if it meant a city-financed stadium.

City residents at a July 9 public hearing made that clear as well.

But since then, City Manager Bev Cameron and councilmen Fred Howe and Brad Ellis have been negotiating with Suns representatives and have come to agreement on general parameters that revamp the financing plan and expand the project.

During a public work session at 5:30 p.m. today, the full council will discuss the revised proposal.

During its regular meeting two hours later, the council is expected to vote on whether to move forward with the project in its new framework.

Based on interviews with council members Monday, it appears the project has the support of a majority.

Under the revised proposal, the Suns and Diamond Nation would be responsible for about $29 million of the estimated upfront costs for the stadium and fields. The city would be responsible for an 1,800-space parking lot, estimated to be a $7 million investment. It would also offer a range of economic incentives.

The private partnership would build a 4,750-seat stadium plus five artificial turf fields where Diamond Nation would host amateur softball and baseball camps and tournaments. Diamond Nation, which runs a similar facility in New Jersey, has an existing business relationship with Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn. The Suns are a Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals.

Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw and Councilwoman Kerry Devine, like Paolucci, said Diamond Nation’s addition to the project shifted their thinking.

They see Diamond Nation providing stability to the project because of its broader operation and because it would bring families that would stay overnight, which at a minimum, means additional lodging and meals tax revenue.

Monday’s announcement of local businessman Ron Rosner’s investment provided additional confidence in the project.

Rosner, founder of the Rosner Auto Group, has been in business in the region for 34 years and started in downtown Fredericksburg.

He now has dealerships in Fredericksburg and Stafford, Spotsylvania and King George counties where he sells Toyota, Volvo, Nissan, Ford and Mercedes–Benz vehicles.

Rosner gave no details on the cost or length of his stadium naming rights deal but said it is a long-term commitment.

“I have a lot of confidence in Mr. Quinn and the Diamond Nation people and it fits well with marketing our brands,” Rosner said.

Wording for the stadium name has not been decided.

Greenlaw said she likes having a local investor. “I have great respect for Ron Rosner and his organization and they are definitely a business that is committed to our community so it definitely strengthens the proposal.”

Support from former Mayor Lawrence Davies clears up other concerns about the project.

Davies sent a letter to Cameron commending him for the negotiating team’s work and expressing his “full support and endorsement” for the project.

Davies, who served three decades as a councilman and mayor, is also pastor emeritus of the Shiloh (Old Site) Baptist Church, a predominantly black congregation.

He served on the advisory board for the U.S. National Slavery Museum, which was to have been built on the 38-acre site now under consideration for the stadium complex.

He said he has no objection to repurposing the land that was to be home to a museum envisioned by L. Douglas Wilder, the nation’s first elected black governor. Davies said it’s possible a memorial or small museum could be erected on the stadium site to honor Wilder’s goal.

“If we can get him to cooperate in terms of making that land available, I think the Silver Cos. would be willing to [remove] their restrictions” on the land, Davies said.

The Silver Cos. donated the land for the museum in 2002 with the restriction that it be used for an African–American history museum or another charitable purpose.

Plans for the museum have faltered over the years, with Wilder blaming it on fundraising problems because of the economy.

The city has been seeking to sell the land because of unpaid taxes and this morning a hearing is scheduled in Spotsylvania Circuit Court. Attorneys for the city will ask Judge Joseph Ellis to allow the tax sale to proceed.

Davies said the city’s negotiating team “clearly succeeded in creating an historic economic development opportunity” for the city and said the “potential benefits can be extraordinary.”

Neither Paolucci nor Greenlaw, nor Devine would say how they will vote this evening, but they expressed increased comfort with the restructured proposal.

“I think it’s a pretty positive deal for both the city and the team at this point,” Devine said.

George Solley declined to offer his views.

Matt Kelly was the proposal’s chief proponent and Howe and Ellis have been part of the negotiations.

Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn said on Monday that he is hopeful about tonight’s vote and called the new terms of the proposal a win for the city, his team and his partners.

“I think it’s a fair deal to everybody involved,” he said, adding that “I think Fredericksburg is a great spot.”

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972

pgould@freelancestar.com

STATEMENT FROM FORMER MAYOR LAWRENCE DAVIES

Former Fredericksburg Mayor Lawrence Davies sent a letter to City Manager Bev Cameron commending him on the negotiations that led to the revised proposal for a multipurpose stadium in Celebrate Virginia South, which he said he now supports.

Below is the information conveyed in his letter.

“It was with incredible excitement and great anticipation when I read the details of our city’s exciting Minor League Baseball and Diamond Nation opportunity. I wish to extend my sincere congratulations to City Manager Bev Cameron and City Council’s negotiating group, which clearly succeeded in creating an historic economic development opportunity for our community.

I believe this is a wonderful prospect for Fredericksburg, now with significant private investment and backing, thanks to your hard work and efforts on behalf of this city that we love. The potential benefits of Minor League Baseball combined with an amateur baseball and softball complex in Fredericksburg can be extraordinary for this area.

This exciting opportunity has my full support and endorsement.”

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