News this week that the Potomac Nationals Minor League baseball team is considering a move to Fredericksburg did not come as a surprise to Prince William County officials, most of whom said they already knew such talks were in the works.
Still, the team’s June 26 announcement that P-Nats’ owner Art Silber and his adult children could soon enter into exclusive negotiations for a $35 million stadium outside the sprawling Central Park shopping center was “disappointing,” several Prince William supervisors said, considering the team has called Woodbridge home for more than three decades.
“I am really sad to see them leave,” said Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of Supervisors and the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate. He called the team “part of the fabric of the community.”
Stewart, R-At Large, helped shepherd a plan to construct a new county-owned stadium for the team at Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center in Woodbridge until those talks collapsed in July 2017 in the wake of failed effort to put the proposal to voters in a ballot referendum.
The referendum idea, pushed by supervisors not in favor of a county-owned stadium, died in June 2017 in a 4-to-4 vote. But it nonetheless demonstrated a lack of five votes needed to move ahead with plans for the county-owned stadium.
Supervisor Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge, said the county’s talks with the team essentially fizzled out last summer.
“It’s not a done deal,” Principi said of the team’s talks with Fredericksburg. “But be that as it may, I am disappointed that we were not hungry enough to build them a new stadium to keep them in Prince William.”
The P-Nat’s deal with City of Fredericksburg appears to have some advantages to both parties that Prince William’s proposal lacked.
For example, the City of Fredericksburg is pledging annual payments of $1.05 million toward the stadium’s debt service but, as proposed, the stadium would be privately financed by the team. Also, news reports suggest the team will save money by building the stadium on land owned by an affiliate of the Silver Companies, which owns the Central Park shopping center. Silver Cos. would also pay $100,000 to the team annually to offset its annual costs.
Fredericksburg officials say they believe they can recoup some of their $1.05 million annual contribution with about $700,000 in new taxes and revenue generated by renting out the stadium to outside entities. The city council is scheduled to vote July 10 on whether to enter into a 120-day study period with the team.
Last year, Prince William supervisors had proposed a county-owned stadium financed through public industrial development bonds. The P-Nats pledged to cover the estimated $2.7 million in annual debt-service payments, while the county promised to spend about $7 million to prepare the site for construction and another $5 million for needed road improvements. Left undecided was whether the county would purchase or rent land from Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center for the stadium complex.
“From a business standpoint, I don’t see that the Silbers had any choice but to make the move,” said Supervisor Marty Nohe, R-Coles, after hearing the details of the Fredericksburg deal. “But we’re sure going to miss them.”
The chief sticking point among Prince William supervisors opposed to the plan was that the county would be liable for the $2.7 million in annual debt-service payments if the team failed to pay.
The three supervisors most opposed to the stadium proposal– Ruth Anderson, R-Occoquan; Pete Candland, R-Gainesville; and Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville -- said they too were disappointed to hear of the team’s possible move but do not regret their position.
The proposal “was just not a good deal” for taxpayers, Candland said, adding: “We were the ones assuming all of the risk.”
Reach Jonathan Hunley and Jill Palermo at firstname.lastname@example.org