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City’s stadium project at risk

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The partners seeking to build a baseball stadium in Fredericksburg are roughly $18 million short in funding and may not go forward with the project without additional financial help, City Manager Bev Cameron announced Tuesday.

The owners of the Hagerstown Suns, a Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, seek to relocate the team to Fredericksburg.

They are partnering with New Jersey-based Diamond Nation, which operates amateur baseball and softball tournaments, camps and clinics, to build a privately financed 5,000-seat stadium where the U.S. National Slavery Museum was to have been built.

The city has already agreed to a variety of financial incentives and plans to buy land adjacent to the stadium site to build a parking lot at a cost of roughly $8 million.

However, the partners are now seeking additional help, Cameron said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

“Diamond Nation is not willing to proceed with the project unless the funding problems can be resolved,” Cameron said in providing a project update at the request of Councilman Matt Kelly.

Kelly urged the council not to abandon the project and said he wants to hold a public, face-to-face meeting with the baseball partners next week to begin working on solutions.

The council would devote its Aug. 26 work session to the stadium project.

The partners provided the city an economic impact report from George Mason University economist Stephen Fuller that outlines the expected benefits from the stadium operation.

It estimates the project would generate $2.6 million annually, revenue that Kelly and Councilman Brad Ellis said would be a great asset to the city.

“I don’t think we need to bridge the entire gap,” Ellis said. “I don’t think anyone is asking us to do that.”

Councilwoman Kerry Devine expressed support for the project but said the partners may need to look for a different site.

Cameron noted that the topography of the museum site, located in the Celebrate Virginia South development and visible from Interstate 95, is a major factor leading to high costs.

The partners have been seeking to build there after the city planned a delinquent tax sale of the 38 acres because the museum hadn’t paid its real estate taxes.

Keith Dilgard, president of Diamond Nation and spokesman for the partners, told The Free Lance–Star on Tuesday that the group is asking for an extension of its land purchase deadline.

The partners have until Monday to complete the deal but they have gotten extensions in the past from the city treasurer and that isn’t seen as a hurdle.

Cameron said at Tuesday’s meeting that if the city furthered its financial aid for the stadium project it could be done through city-issued bonds supported by a special service tax district.

That tax district would include the business owners in Celebrate Virginia South and Central Park, the two commercial areas that would see the greatest financial benefit from the stadium.

“I do hope we can figure out a solution,” Devine said.

Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw expressed support for the project and the economist who studied its potential impact.

“Dr. Fuller is one of the most highly respected economists in the state, if not the East Coast,” Greenlaw said.

Dilgard is scheduled to be out of town next week so it was unclear Tuesday whether he or another member of the stadium partners could travel to Fredericksburg for a meeting.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972