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City supports new baseball stadium concept

MORE: National Slavery Museum timeline and archives

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

Fredericksburg City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to support building a multipurpose stadium in Celebrate Virginia South that would be home to the minor league Hagerstown Suns.

An effort was made earlier in the day to resolve a key part of the proposal: obtaining the land where the partners in the project would like to build the stadium.

Local auto dealer Ron Rosner, who on Monday announced that he is becoming an investor in the project and is purchasing naming rights for the stadium, sent a member of his staff to Spotsylvania Circuit Court on behalf of the baseball group with a cashier’s check for $1.5 million made payable to the city.

RELATED: See a full report on the court hearing on the land. 

He had hoped, based on negotiations that have been underway for weeks, that the payment would have resulted in the partners obtaining the deed to the 38-acre site where the U.S. National Slavery Museum was to have been built.

However, that effort failed and negotiations are continuing.

The original stadium deal that came before City Council on July 9 involved only the Suns, a Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. The Suns were then asking for a city-financed $30 million stadium.

That proposal didn’t have the support of most council members and was rejected by city residents who spoke at a public hearing.

That night, the council appointed members Fred Howe and Brad Ellis to work with City Manager Bev Cameron to try to negotiate a better deal.

Councilman George Solley voted against moving ahead with negotiations then, believing a workable deal couldn’t be reached. But Tuesday night, before the vote was taken, he commended the city’s negotiators and the baseball partners for their success in coming up with a deal that “thinks outside the box.”

“I am happy to have been proven wrong in this case,” he said.

The new deal partners the Suns with Diamond Nation, a New Jersey-based firm that operates baseball and softball camps and tournaments.

Rosner, founder of the Rosner Auto Group, which has dealerships in Fredericksburg and the counties of Stafford, Spotsylvania and King George, is the only local investor named to date.

The baseball partnership plans to build a multi-purpose stadium for the Suns in a complex that would include a 4,750-seat stadium and five artificial turf fields that Diamond Nation would use roughly nine months of the year.

Under the proposal approved Tuesday night, the baseball partners finance the majority of the costs and undertake the majority of the financial risks, Cameron said.

The baseball partners would build the $29 million stadium.

The city would pay for an 1,800-space parking lot for it on land that it would buy, for a total cost of $7 million. In addition, the city is offering several economic incentives to the baseball partners, many of which return tax revenues to them.

But Cameron noted during a council work session Tuesday evening that the project is expected to generate $2 million annually in sales, meals and lodging tax revenues outside the stadium complex as a result of the 400,000 visitors anticipated to visit Fredericksburg, chiefly for the Diamond Nation events.

Diamond Nation has projected the visitors could be twice that many.

Each of the partners in the baseball deal attended Tuesday’s council meeting. That included Diamond Nation founder Jack Cust, Diamond Nation president Keith Dilgard, Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn, and Rosner.

The six people who spoke on the issue Tuesday all supported the proposal.

During the council’s one-hour work session, questions arose about whether the city would retain the ability to use the parking lot for other things such as commuter parking and special events. That is something that remains to be resolved as negotiations get finalized.

The design for the stadium hasn’t been unveiled but Councilman Matt Kelly assured his colleagues that the partners are aware there will be environmental, height and architecture issues as the project moves forward.

Though the council endorsed the concept Tuesday night, the project still has hurdles to clear before the deal is finalized.

The partners hope those steps can be resolved within 30 days but Cameron has said they could take double that because of the changes needed in ordinances and the city’s Comprehensive Plan and Capital Improvements Plan. He also said as many as a dozen public hearings will be part of the process.

The Suns team, which is relocating from Maryland, would like to have the stadium ready for the spring 2015 season.

Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw was among the city officials commending the negotiating team on its work Tuesday night and called the new proposal a “unique public–private partnership” and one that is “very unique in the baseball world.”

“I am very excited about voting for it this evening and am hopeful we can move forward in resolving the remaining issues,” Councilwoman Kerry Devine said.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972