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Senate panel hesitant about city baseball bill

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RICHMOND—The Senate Finance Committee isn’t ready to play ball on a bill that would let Fredericksburg use sales tax revenues to pay off a parking lot for a planned stadium complex.

Instead, it sent Sen. Richard Stuart’s bill to a subcommittee for further study this session because one senator is afraid Fredericksburg will be just the first of many localities holding onto sales tax revenue from a sports complex if Stuart’s bill passes.

The bill sponsored by Stuart, R–Stafford, would allow the city of Fredericksburg and other localities to benefit from the public facility tax entitlement for a sports complex even if they own only a piece of the complex.

As it stands now, Stuart said, Fredericksburg’s efforts to entice private financing for a new baseball stadium worked so well that the city disqualified itself from using sales tax revenue generated by the facility to pay off public bonds for a parking lot at the complex.

The complex is a joint venture between the owners of the Hagerstown Suns, a Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals that plans to move to Fredericksburg in 2015, and Diamond Nation, a New Jersey-based company that runs amateur baseball and softball camps and tournaments.

The owners of those two entities, along with Rosner Automotive Group principal Ron Rosner, plan to build a 4,750-seat baseball stadium for the Suns and five artificial turf fields for Diamond Nation youth and amateur baseball and softball camps and tournaments.

Since private funds are paying for the stadium itself, the city is using about $8 million in bonds to finance the parking lot.

Without the private money, Stuart said, the city’s bonds would be more like $38 million, as the stadium and rest of the complex are estimated to cost about $30 million. But if not for the private investment, the city would also be eligible to use sales tax revenues to pay off part of the bonds, something it can’t do now because it will own only part of the property.

Without his bill, Stuart said, Fredericksburg is getting punished for being too successful.

But Sen. John Watkins, R–Powhatan, is worried that Stuart’s bill will open the door to other localities, and he’s worried if the state allows too many localities to retain a portion of sales tax revenues for capital projects, the state will feel the pinch.

“Richmond wants the same thing,” Watkins said, referring to efforts in the city of Richmond to build a new baseball complex.

“We’ve got to come up with a policy as to how we’re going to address these things,” Watkins said. “We’re going to have a line form … We’re going to diminish the amount of revenue that comes into Virginia for education.”

According to a fiscal impact statement on Stuart’s bill, the revenue loss is unknown.

Currently, 15 public facilities statewide meet the statute’s definition, the statement said. Stuart’s bill would expand the definition to include sports complexes that house minor league baseball teams as long as part of the complex is owned by the city.

City Attorney Kathleen Dooley, who came to Richmond to testify on the bill, said if allowed to keep 3.5 percentage points of the stadium’s sales tax revenue to repay the bonds, Fredericksburg would reap $250,000 a year over the 20-year life of the bonds.

The committee agreed to send Stuart’s bill to an economic development subcommittee that is chaired by Watkins.

Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028