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Rising costs put stadium in jeopardy

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The group planning to build a stadium complex in Fredericksburg is committed to the project that would bring minor league baseball to the city but faces a “major hurdle” with higher-than-expected construction costs, a spokesman said Wednesday.

“We are stuck at this point,” said Keith Dilgard, president of Diamond Nation and point person for the stadium partners.

Owners of the Hagerstown Suns are seeking to relocate the Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals from Maryland to Fredericksburg.

When the city rejected their plans for a government-funded stadium last year, the Suns ownership partnered with New Jersey-based Diamond Nation and began developing plans for a privately financed stadium complex that would be located in the Celebrate Virginia South project in the city.

Diamond Nation would build a facility similar to its current one with multiple fields for amateur baseball and softball camps, clinics and tournaments that would operate the majority of the year.

The original projected cost of $29 million was just for a 5,000-seat stadium to serve the Suns.

Based on the cost of other minor-league stadiums and Diamond Nation’s New Jersey facility, the partners were advised to expect the Fredericksburg project to cost $35 million, plus $8 million for a parking facility for a total of $43 million, Dilgard said.

The partners have obtained financing for $35 million and the city has agreed to contribute $8 million for the parking lot.

However, construction costs have exceeded those estimates by $18 million, with a significant part of the increase for addressing the hilly topography of the stadium site.

“No one could have anticipated—at least none of us—the construction costs would come back the way they did,” Dilgard said.

The partners have been working diligently over the past several months to try to address the gap, City Manager Bev Cameron said on Wednesday.

But, at the request of Councilman Matt Kelly, Cameron announced the funding gap during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

That gap has put the project in jeopardy in light of financial incentives the city has already agreed to for the project.

Dilgard clarified on Wednesday that the $18 million figure is the “worst-case scenario.” He expects it to be millions of dollars less when precise construction bids are received.

But he said the partners need to find a way to guarantee that the additional $18 million would be available before they can move ahead with the project.

He called that a “major hurdle” to overcome, but added that the partners aren’t expecting the city to resolve it alone.

“No one is asking them to put in all of this money,” Dilgard said. “We would like to sit down and work together to bridge this gap.

“We’re up for anything.”

The council has scheduled a work session on the baseball project for Aug. 26. Before then, Kelly has said he would like to have a public meeting with the baseball stadium partners.

As of Wednesday, Dilgard was scheduled to be out of town next week, but said he is is willing to meet in Fredericksburg at some point in the next two weeks.

Kelly had suggested an alternative meeting date might be Aug. 25 or the morning of Aug. 26.

The stadium partners this week contacted City Treasurer Brenda Wood to request an extension of Monday’s deadline to finalize the purchase of the stadium site.

The partners have been negotiating to buy the 38 acres where former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder had planned to build his U.S. National Slavery Museum.

The treasurer’s office was moving toward a delinquent tax sale on the museum property last fall when the partners announced they had reached a deal to buy the land.

In October, the treasurer delayed the tax sale by 150 days to give the partners time to finalize the deal. The tax sale was planned to recover back taxes, interest and penalties on the property since the museum had not been paying its real estate taxes.

The treasurer’s office had previously extended the deadline to finalize the land sale in March and again in June.

Wood said she will decide today whether to grant another extension.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972