Prince William County is pouring $200,000 into studying the prospect of building a new stadium for the Potomac Nationals minor league baseball team.
The board of county supervisors voted 5-3 on April 11 to use the money for “further financial analysis” of the project, and additional payments to legal counsel for advice on the $35 million in bonds the county would have to issue for the stadium. Supervisors Ruth Anderson, R-Occoquan, Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, and Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, cast the dissenting votes.
The vote is just the second public proceeding supervisors have held on the stadium project, and much of the discussion on this latest expenditure happened behind closed doors after it was originally listed on the public meeting agenda. The board last voted in early March to approve a preliminary “letter of intent” with the Single-A baseball team and the JBG Cos., the owners of the land near Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center where the stadium would be built.
Under the arrangement, the county will construct and own the stadium, letting the Washington Nationals’ minor league affiliate move out of the aging Pfitzner Stadium in the next few years. Then, the team will pay back the county over the course of a 30-year lease, covering debt service costs and land lease payments at about $2.7 million per year.
But, according to the proposed deal, the county still has to chip in plenty of cash first to get the deal off the ground. Prince William is responsible for sending $7 million to the P-Nats and JBG to help them prepare the site for the construction, and for conducting a traffic analysis of the area and adding any road improvements deemed necessary through that process, which could also cost millions of dollars.
The county is also responsible for securing state grants to cover the construction of the 1,400-space parking garage attached to the project, as that facility will offer commuter parking when the P-Nats aren’t playing.
Yet, even with this latest infusion of cash into the project, this deal is still a long way from being finalized.
Several of the board’s more fiscally conservative members have expressed serious reservations about the mechanics of the deal, and worried that the team could face problems paying back the county over the course of the lease. Candland, in particular, pushed back against the deal Tuesday, noting that he doesn’t believe it will be much of an economic boon to the county.
He pointed to the county’s recent failure to secure a $5 million grant to help fund the garage through the state’s “Transportation Opportunity Fund” as evidence of this fact, since state officials rejected the county’s application over worries that it wouldn’t create the requisite number of jobs to qualify for the grant.
Candland even went as so far as to propose a complete restructuring of the proposed deal, sending the question of whether to issue these bonds to the public through a referendum. Currently, the county is set to issue the bonds through its Industrial Development Authority, rather than the general obligation debt that could be approved in a November ballot question.
“I believe this was framed so it didn’t have to through a public referendum,” Candland said. “So let the taxpayers decide. If they tell us to fund the stadium over the next 30 years, then to me, this becomes different conversation.”
But the board narrowly rejected that proposal — Supervisor Maureen Caddigan, R-Potomac, joined Candland, Anderson and Lawson in voting for it, but it failed on a 4-4 tie.
Republican At-Large Chairman Corey Stewart was particularly opposed to the measure, calling it a “surprise” to taxpayers and warning that such a significant delay could force JBG to sell the land to someone else.
“JBG spent a lot of money on pursuing this, and last time, they told us it was time for county to make up its mind,” Stewart said. “We made that decision to go forward...and we still have a lot of escape hatches going forward.”
Indeed, county staff believe that the board could elect to back out of the deal at several key junctures — for instance, if Prince William can’t secure state funding for the parking garage or the cost of road improvements in the area proves to be unpalatable, the county can still back away from the stadium.
One of the first key deadlines in the process is rapidly approaching. Supervisors expect an answer from the state’s Department of Transportation on additional grants for the parking garage within the next few weeks, and they could be in line for some good news on that front, despite that initial $5 million denial.
Documents and correspondence released to InsideNoVa via a Freedom of Information Act request show that state transportation staffers are recommending the garage project for funding through the state’s “SMART Scale” program. The construction would also include the widening of Neabsco Mills Road in the area, and would require about $38.6 million in state funding in total.