Plan for stadium moves forward
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When Diamond Nation President Keith Dilgard visited Fredericksburg weeks ago, he said he immediately knew it was a good fit.
“One trip through Fredericksburg kind of hit the gut and said, ‘This is the place we want to be,’” he recalled.
Dilgard currently oversees the Diamond Nation baseball and softball sports complex in Flemington, N.J. He also was selected to serve as president of the partnership formed with the Hagerstown Suns to build a stadium in the Celebrate Virginia South development in Fredericksburg.
In a broad-ranging interview Sunday, Dilgard offered additional details on the project, its status and the level of the group’s commitment to Fredericksburg.
He acknowledged a recent report in the Hagerstown (Md.) Herald–Mail stating that Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn has a closed-door meeting scheduled Friday with that city’s mayor, but said he preferred not to speak for Quinn, who was out of the country.
Dilgard was unequivocal, however, that the stadium group’s plans are clear and moving forward.
“Fredericksburg is where we want to be,” he said.
Last Tuesday, the Fredericksburg City Council voted unanimously to support the project proposed by the stadium partnership.
The group—which has not yet given itself a name—plans to build a 4,750-seat multipurpose stadium and five artificial turf fields, which it will finance for roughly $29 million.
Fredericksburg is slated to buy adjoining property to build an 1,800-space parking lot at a total cost of $7 million. The city has also offered a package of economic incentives.
By Sept. 14, Dilgard said the group hopes to have the issue of the stadium’s location resolved.
He said meetings are scheduled for this week and next and that the goal remains to build on the 38-acre site that was to have been home to the U.S. National Slavery Museum, a project envisioned by former Gov. Doug Wilder that never materialized.
But, as efforts continue to acquire that land, the partners have been offered other options in Celebrate Virginia South where they could build, if necessary.
“Obviously, we wouldn’t be doing anyone justice if we weren’t looking at a plan B,” Dilgard said.
The group is already moving ahead with stadium design plans and will hold another meeting with its architect this week.
Beyond fields and a stadium, the Fredericksburg complex will include an indoor facility for skills work, strength training and conditioning for the professional players. The plan is that the amateur athletes would share that space and that fans might be able to view some of the workout areas.
Plans are still coming together and costs will be a factor as the group works through its must-haves and wish list but, “We want to make it special,” Dilgard said.
He said buzz has started spreading through the Diamond Nation customer base about the new facility in Virginia and people are eager to visit.
Diamond Nation currently operates camps, training or tournaments from the beginning of February through the beginning of December, with its indoor facility and domed field helping when weather is chilly.
Its current customer base stretches from Maine to Virginia, but that is expected to expand into more southern states when the Fredericksburg complex opens.
Dilgard said the New Jersey facility also hosts lacrosse events and he would be open to hosting lacrosse and possibly field hockey in Virginia.
“We currently run indoor lacrosse weeks as well as outdoor tournaments,” Dilgard said, noting that the Mid-Atlantic region and the entire Northeast are big areas for that sport.
While the new stadium will host other types of events such as concerts, its primary purpose will be to serve as home to the Hagerstown Suns, a Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals.
The partners are working diligently to address the formal steps needed under professional baseball rules to move the team.
One change the public will be invited to weigh in on is the team’s new name.
Dilgard said the partners plan to hold a contest, inviting the community to offer suggestions on what to call the Suns once they’ve relocated from Maryland.
He said the effort will be part of a marketing campaign that is currently being crafted and that should be fun for everyone in the region that the partners see as an ideal setting for a successful venture.
Diamond Nation’s leaders had been looking for places across the country to build a second complex, considering spots in Illinois, Connecticut and Florida.
When Quinn approached them this summer about a partnership with the Suns, the idea of pairing pros and amateurs at one facility was “very, very appetizing” and something that’s not done anywhere else in the country, Dilgard said.
After visiting Fredericksburg, the vision took hold.
Fredericksburg offers precisely what families that travel to Diamond Nation for baseball and softball tournaments are seeking, he said.
It has hotels, restaurants, shopping, movie theaters and history that make for a great family outing beyond the competition.
He said that’s what Diamond Nation strives for.
He said it’s not just about baseball or softball. It’s about helping youth learn camaraderie with peers that have similar interests and goals so they gain skills they can use beyond the athletic field.
Fredericksburg immediately struck him as a place suited to those aims, he said.
“When you drive in an area, you just have a good feeling.”
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Keith Dilgard, who will serve as president of the stadium partnership, provided the following details for moving ahead with creating a sports complex in Celebrate Virginia South.
Soon, a contest will be held for the public to participate in renaming the Hagerstown Suns.
By Sept. 14, the partners hope to resolve the issue of the exact site for the multipurpose stadium.
Within 30 to 60 days, the group hopes to lay out details for the facilities at the complex beyond a stadium and five artificial turf fields.
The deadline to open the stadium is spring 2015 for the start of the 2015 minor league baseball season.