Fredericksburg, Va. officials to negotiate new baseball stadium proposal for Hagerstown Suns

July 10, 2013|By DON AINES and C.J. LOVELACE | and

After hearing significant opposition at a public hearing, officials in Fredericksburg, Va., want to negotiate a new proposal to build a baseball stadium for the Hagerstown Suns, who are considering a move to the Northern Virginia city.

The Fredericksburg City Council voted 5-1 Tuesday night to have two of its members and city officials work with the Hagerstown Suns on a deal that is more favorable for the city.

A deadline to present the new draft was set for the council’s Aug. 13 meeting.

The action followed more than two hours of public comment, in which a majority of speakers expressed opposition to the proposed 30-year lease for a publicly financed stadium that would seat 5,000, according to a published report in The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg.

Many who spoke in opposition to the proposed deal at Tuesday’s meeting were not against bringing a baseball team to the region, but were concerned about the cost of a multiuse stadium as presented, Councilman Matthew J. Kelly said Wednesday in a telephone interview.

Kelly said he made the motion to appoint a negotiating team.

The Free Lance-Star reported that the city may have to issue as much as $33 million in bonds to finance the project.

“There is significant opposition to public funding of a stadium. Of course, there are folks who would like to see baseball here, but not under the terms proposed,” Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw said in an email Wednesday.

The seven-member council appointed Vice Mayor Bradford C. Ellis and Councilman Frederic N. Howe III to work with City Manager Beverly R. Cameron and a lease consultant to negotiate with the Suns, Kelly said.

The negotiating team will try to negotiate a “more reasonable deal that includes much more investment from the team,” Greenlaw said.

Asked what number would be sufficient for the Suns to contribute, Greenlaw said: “I will not comment on that. The specific number depends on many factors.”

“The deadline for bringing back an agreement is Aug. 13,” Greenlaw said.

Kelly said the council could decide at that meeting whether to proceed with trying to bring the Suns to town, or that the two sides are too far apart for further talks.

Suns keep options open

“The meeting was to determine support for baseball in Fredericksburg, and the response was in support of baseball by a large majority,” Suns majority partner Bruce Quinn said in an emailed response about Tuesday’s meeting.

“We look forward to advancing the ball in Fredericksburg to the second phase by working with city leaders and staff on financing the project for the August 13 meeting,” Quinn wrote.

Although involved in negotiations with Fredericksburg, Quinn also said that he was “... tentatively scheduled to meet with Hagerstown staff on Tuesday.”

Hagerstown Mayor David S. Gysberts did not return two telephones messages left Wednesday.

“Mr. Quinn has been very up front,” Kelly said. “For obvious reasons, he has to keep his options open.”

The plan presented Tuesday called for the Suns to contribute $3 million, along with annual lease payments, profit sharing and naming rights, Kelly said.

The proposal also called for a special taxing district in two commercial areas, according to a June 13 news release from the city.

“There are a lot of moving parts in the financing,” said Kelly, who noted that he has been talking about bringing a minor league team to the region for more than a year — well before the Suns approached the city about two months ago.

“The (Virginia) General Assembly provided us with legislation to take the state sales tax generated by the stadium and roll it back into debt service” on a multiuse stadium, Kelly said.

The legislation requires that the facility be home to an affiliated minor league team, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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