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Baseball partners eye slavery museum land

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The partners seeking to build a multipurpose stadium in Fredericksburg are currently focused on acquiring the land in Celebrate Virginia South where it would be built, representatives said Thursday.

The group—made up of the owners of the minor league Hagerstown Suns, leaders of the Diamond Nation sports complex in New Jersey and local auto dealer Ron Rosner—is committed to the project in Fredericksburg if it can obtain the land overlooking Interstate 95.

But there is nothing to block the Suns’ owners from continuing to negotiate with officials in Hagerstown, Md., where they have a lease through the end of next year.

Fredericksburg City Manager Bev Cameron said no formal agreement has been signed as yet between the stadium partners and the city though City Council this week unanimously supported the proposal.

The partners hope to build a 4,750-seat multipurpose stadium with five artificial turf fields on the 38 acres in Fredericksburg where the U.S. National Slavery Museum was to have been built.

That project, envisioned by former Gov. Doug Wilder, never got off the ground.

The Silver Cos. donated the land to Wilder for the museum in 2002 but fundraising failed to produce enough money to build the structure designed by C.C. Pei of Pei Partnership Architects in New York.

The stadium partners thought they would have the deed in hand by Tuesday afternoon as a result of negotiations that have been ongoing for weeks. But the effort failed when Pei’s attorney said he didn’t have authority to accept the offer.

On Tuesday morning, Rosner sent a cashier’s check for $1.5 million to the Spotsylvania County courthouse, where a judge was to decide whether to order the land auctioned for failure to pay more than $350,000 in unpaid taxes.

Rosner said he understood the check would be accepted by the parties involved and that it would cover the unpaid taxes due to Fredericksburg and provide the remaining $1.15 million to Pei to settle his claim for designing the museum.

Pei claims the museum owes more than $6 million in unpaid fees and interest.

The slavery museum was never built. The only thing that materialized on the land was a small garden with a large sculpture of a man breaking free of his shackles.

When the sale failed to materialize, Circuit Judge Joseph Ellis delayed a decision on the auction and set another hearing for Sept. 25.

On Thursday, Rosner and another partnership representative said the group’s focus since Tuesday has been on resolving the land issue.

Tuesday night, the Fredericksburg City Council voted unanimously to accept the revised stadium proposal negotiated between the group and city officials.

The original proposal involved only the Hagerstown Suns, a Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. The team sought to relocate from Maryland to Fredericksburg but wanted the city to build and finance the stadium.

When city residents rejected that idea, the council voted for Councilmen Fred Howe and Brad Ellis to work with Cameron to try to negotiate a better deal.

What resulted was the entry of Diamond Nation’s owners as a partner. And on Monday, Rosner announced that he was becoming a minority shareholder in the deal and purchasing naming rights for the stadium.

Diamond Nation operates a baseball and softball complex in Flemington, N.J., that hosts camps and tournaments.

The Fredericksburg proposal includes moving the Suns to the city and starting a second Diamond Nation operation that is expected to operate nine months of the year and bring a conservative estimate of 400,000 visitors annually, according to information Cameron shared with the council on Tuesday.

The new proposal also places the burden of the financial risk and financing of the $29 million stadium on the stadium partners.

The city’s financial outlay will be $7 million to buy adjoining land for an 1,800 -space parking lot that it will build. The city is also offering several economic incentives to the stadium partners.

Cameron said he has been in discussions with the Silver Cos. about the 12 to 15 acres the city will need, is aware of a price range for the land and sees no obstacles to obtaining it, presuming the stadium partners obtain the museum parcel.

Cameron said the city stands to receive an estimated $2 million annually in sales, meals, and lodging tax revenue outside the stadium property once operations begin.

Bruce Quinn, majority owner of the Suns, set a spring 2015 deadline to have the stadium ready for the start of that minor league season.

To obtain final approval in Fredericksburg, the stadium project still needs to get through several steps including amendments to the city’s Comprehensive Plan and Capital Improvements Plan, and ordinances related to the incentives.

Cameron said Thursday that his staff and the city attorney’s office have begun working on those steps that will require as many as a dozen public hearings along the way.

He said the deal will show a final commitment on the part of both sides when a performance agreement is signed.

Both sides have many details yet to resolve including terms for the parking. On Tuesday, council broached the possibility of using it for commuter parking or for special-event parking where visitors would be shuttled to downtown.

Those details are unresolved but Cameron said it is expected that people attending Suns home games will pay for parking.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972