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Suns and Fredericksburg, Va. announce preliminary deal

City councilman about 85 percent confident that the city council will OK agreement next week

August 22, 2013|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com

The Hagerstown Suns and Fredericksburg, Va., issued a joint statement Wednesday announcing they had reached preliminary agreement on the outline of a deal that one member of the city’s negotiating team said “got us around third base and heading for home.”

Fredericksburg City Councilman Fred Howe, a member of the city’s three-person negotiating team, said in a telephone interview Thursday that the statement came at the end of a negotiating session with the Suns on Wednesday.

“The format of the deal is to shift responsibility for the stadium building to the team and away from the public debt side,” Howe said. 

The deal is “a paradigm shift” from an earlier proposal for a publicly financed and owned stadium for the minor league baseball team that met with opposition at a July 9 public hearing, he said.

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“The team is going to own the land and the stadium” and the city will be responsible for a parking area that will serve the ballpark, Howe said. 

The city would spend $6 million to $7 million on the parking facility, while the team and its private partner, Diamond Nation, would construct a $38 million stadium complex.

Howe put his level of confidence at 85 percent that the city council would approve the deal next week. The council will hold a work session on Aug. 27 to discuss the deal, followed by a regular meeting during which the proposal could come up for a vote, he said.

The announcement came a day after a majority of the Hagerstown City Council’s five members pledged support for a new stadium downtown near the intersection of West Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue.

Councilman Donald F. Munson, who previously opposed a downtown stadium, said at the Tuesday meeting that he would temporarily join Councilmen Lewis C. Metzner and Martin E. Brubaker in supporting the downtown site.

“Conceptual agreements are easy to come by,” Metzner said Thursday in a telephone interview. “I’d say a year ago that the city council had reached a conceptual agreement” on a new stadium.

The difference between what the council agreed to before last fall’s city election and the negotiations going on between the Washington Nationals’ minor-league affiliate and Fredericksburg is the financial arrangement, Metzner said. 

The Suns have brought in a private partner with Diamond Nation, something majority owner Bruce Quinn never brought to the table with Hagerstown, he said.

Howe agreed that having Diamond Nation in the talks had helped bring about the proposed agreement.

In June, Quinn submitted a proposal to Fredericksburg to relocate the team to that city.

A public hearing was held July 9, and most citizens opposed publicly financing a stadium, prompting the council to tell negotiators to come up with a financing plan less reliant on taxpayer money.

“When the public spoke, we listened,” Howe said.

Last week, officials in Fredericksburg said they were meeting with Suns representatives on Tuesday to discuss the latest proposal. 

That was after the Suns announced they had partnered with Diamond Nation of New Jersey to privately finance a project for a minor league ballpark complex with amateur baseball and softball fields at the city’s Celebrate Virginia South commercial development.

“We can justify the parking part of it, because it serves other interests,” Howe said.

The parking area would be available to the Suns, Diamond Nation and city uses, he said.

The incentive Fredericksburg is offering the Suns would come in the form of cash payments based on tax revenues the team and facility generate for the city, Howe said.

Although some specifics still need to be finalized, the city plans to provide an incentive package to the team that could be worth about $22.6 million over 20 years, including an estimated $8.7 million in revenue generated by meals, admissions and business licenses, according to information released Thursday night by Fredericksburg City Manager Beverly Cameron.

Another $11 million over two decades is expected to be generated through a special taxing district the city plans to establish and by way of a state sales tax “claw back,” Cameron said.

“The team’s investment for the stadium and amateur field facilities will be approximately $29 million,” Cameron said, noting the team’s incentive package could be higher if it attracts more visitors than currently anticipated.

According to Metzner, there are three elements to getting a deal done with the Suns: site selection, an agreement with the team and financing.

“We’ve done the easiest of those three, and you’ve seen what that’s taken,” Metzner said of the council’s unofficial agreement on a site for a stadium.

If the Suns reach a deal with Fredericksburg, Metzner said he does not believe the team will be playing in that city by 2015, since it could take a few years to build a 5,000-seat stadium.

The Suns would need a place to play until construction is completed, and “I can’t see them playing in Municipal Stadium for $1 a year,” he said, referring to the current agreement with the team for use of the city-owned ballpark.

That could open the way for a short-term lease agreement for the Suns to keep playing in Hagerstown until a stadium is built, Metzner said.

Staff Writer C.J. Lovelace contributed to this story.

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