Slavery museum gives up city land; stadium backers reach deal on Celebrate Virginia site
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Developers of a minor league baseball stadium and amateur sports complex are reverting to their original plan of building on the 38 acres where the U.S. National Slavery Museum was to have been built in Fredericksburg.
The Hagerstown Suns and Diamond Nation finalized an agreement Monday with the museum organization and its largest creditor to buy the land along Interstate 95 in Celebrate Virginia South.
The contract was signed 10 days before the slavery museum land was scheduled to be sold at public auction for the organization’s failure to pay Fredericksburg real-estate taxes.
The city Treasurer’s Office has been asked to postpone the auction while the contract is pending. During that several months process, Diamond Nation and the Suns will finalize stadium financing, site-engineering work and the other details needed to close the land deal.
Fredericksburg Treasurer Jim Haney said he plans to issue a formal decision Tuesday on pushing back the scheduled auction.
The contract concluded many months of back-and-forth negotiations among the baseball investors, slavery museum organization and Pei Partnership Architects. Pei was not paid for designing the never-built slavery museum and has a judgment against the organization for more than $6 million.
Under the deal reached this week, the city of Fredericksburg will get the roughly $450,000 it is owed in back taxes and attorney fees. Financial terms of the land contract have not yet been disclosed.
Celebrate Virginia South developer the Silver Cos. has separately agreed to give the slavery museum organization 2.5 acres in the development if and when the organization gets an approved site plan from the city for a scaled-down museum.
The land will not be deeded to the organization, which is spearheaded by former Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder, until that time.
Silver has also agreed to sell Diamond Nation and the Suns 6 acres just to the west of the planned baseball complex for $1. Diamond Nation President Keith Dilgard said the team has not determined the exact use for that acreage, but it has discussed possibly building a hotel there.
Silver has also agreed to amend restrictions it placed on the 38 acres when it donated the land to the slavery museum organization in 2002. The restrictions currently state that the property can be used only for an African–American history museum, or other educational or charitable purpose. A professional and amateur baseball complex will be added as an allowed use.
The baseball investors had targeted the slavery museum site for most of the months-long process to relocate the Suns to a 4,750-seat stadium in Fredericksburg and build a second Diamond Nation amateur baseball and softball complex.
After negotiations stalled, the investors turned their focus to the land just to the south of the slavery museum parcel where Kalahari Resorts had once planned a waterpark resort.
That site would have worked, Dilgard said, but project engineers determined that the slavery museum land would be a better choice.
The slavery museum land just south of the Rappahannock River is highly visible from I–95, which will allow the baseball investors to showcase their complex to drivers along the busy interstate. Rosner Auto Group will have naming rights at the stadium, and company principal Ron Rosner will be one of the investors in the roughly $29 million facility.
The Suns, a Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, and Diamond Nation hope to open the complex in time for the start of the 2015 season.
Earlier this month, the team formally applied to Minor League Baseball to relocate to Fredericksburg.
The city of Fredericksburg will buy adjacent land, about 16 acres, from Silver for stadium parking and bear the cost of building the 1,800-space lot. The estimated cost of the parking facility is between $7 million and $8 million.
The Suns and Diamond Nation will also receive an array of tax reimbursements from the city in order to help cover the debt service on the baseball complex.
Silver executive Jud Honaker said his company plans to use the proceeds from the sale of the land to the city to pay off its back taxes at Celebrate Virginia South. The company is also trying to work out an agreement with Celebrate Virginia’s bondholders to restructure the Community Development Authority debt.
—Staff reporter Pamela Gould contributed to this report.
Bill Freehling: 540/374-5405