Although Fredericksburg officials struck out the last time they tried to bring a professional baseball team to the city, they’re back at the plate to take another swing.
The City Council revealed Tuesday night that it has been in talks for about a year with the Silber family, who owns the Potomac Nationals—the Class A-Advanced minor league affiliate of the Washington Nationals—about relocating the team from Prince William County to Fredericksburg.
“This is a very exciting story for the city of Fredericksburg,” said Bill Freehling, director of economic development for the city, at Tuesday’s meeting. “The Silber family would like to relocate their minor league baseball team to the city of Fredericksburg. We’re very excited to announce that here tonight.”
The talks have resulted in a nonbinding letter of intent between the city and the baseball club, in which the team would plan, design, finance and build a 5,000-seat stadium in Celebrate Virginia South—where Wegmans, the Fredericksburg Expo Center and three hotels are now located.
Officials said the site is different from the one that was the center of unsuccessful talks in 2013 to bring the Hagerstown Suns to Fredericksburg, but did not identify the exact location.
Negotiations with the Silber family have taken place through phone calls, in-person meetings and several closed sessions with the City Council, City Manager Tim Baroody said. The council will vote on approving the letter of intent on July 10.
Art Silber, his son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law and grandchildren were present at Tuesday’s meeting.
“We think we’ve got a great opportunity here,” Silber said. “This is an incredible location and a great community.”
The stadium is expected to cost $35 million. Under the agreement, the stadium will be privately financed by the baseball club and the city will not incur any debt.
“Unlike most stadium projects, this deal, as outlined in the [letter], will not be built by Fredericksburg,” Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw said in a news release issued by the city. “Instead, the baseball club will finance, build and maintain the stadium. The city will be able to use the multipurpose stadium for community events on non-baseball days for the next 30 years.”
Silber said that in privately funding the stadium, he risks losing the ball club.
“If we thought or felt this is something that wouldn’t work, I guarantee you, we wouldn’t do it, because we wouldn’t risk the equity in the ball club,” he said.
The city would be considered an “anchor tenant” of the stadium in exchange for an annual payment to the club of $1.05 million for 30 years.
Freehling said this amount would not be affected by inflation and that the city plans to cover the commitment through proceeds generated by the stadium. These proceeds are estimated to include $700,000 from tax revenue generated by the stadium through property taxes, admissions, sales, meals and business license taxes and $250,000 generated through the use of the stadium on non-game days.
These projections come from an economic impact report on a possible stadium prepared for the city by consulting firm Brailsford and Dunlavey in 2013. They are based on an average attendance of 4,100 for the baseball games.
The Silver Cos., which owns the land where the stadium would be built, will contribute $100,000 annually to the project, according to the letter.
“We think that [city taxpayers] will not be affected at all,” Freehling said in an interview.
“We’re really excited about this,” Freehling continued. “Besides the economic benefit, there’s a quality-of-life, intangible benefit that comes from having a baseball team in town.”
The name of the Carolina League team is yet to be determined, he said, but “Fredericksburg” will be part of it.
The Celebrate Virginia After Hours concert series would move to the new stadium. Other potential non-baseball uses include holiday activities such as a skating rink and a holiday lights display as well as food festivals, music festivals, sports tournaments and corporate events.
According to the city’s press release, an average attendance of 4,100 would generate 1,367 vehicle trips. Celebrate Virginia South already has six-lane roads built to handle high traffic volumes and the After Hours concert series has attracted an audience of up to 7,000, the press release states.
If the council approves the letter of intent, it will trigger a 120-day study period for both the baseball club and the city. A public hearing will be scheduled during that time.
During the study period, the baseball club will be prohibited from negotiating a deal with any other localities. At the end of the study period, in November, the city would sign a definitive agreement with the Silber family. If approved, the first season in the new stadium would begin in April 2020.
The proposed deal is a marriage between a team that has been looking for a new stadium with a community that has tried to lure a baseball team since at least 2012.
The Potomac Nationals have been seeking a new location for several years, because the 34-year-old Pfitzner Stadium at the Prince William County government complex lacks many of the amenities of modern-day baseball facilities. But a preliminary deal to construct a new stadium at Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center off Interstate 95 fell apart last summer because of concerns by some Prince William supervisors over the risk of issuing bonds to help the team build the facility.
Both Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County considered separate deals with the Hagerstown Suns to build a stadium several years ago. The proposal in Spotsylvania generated an outcry from those opposed to the county taking on the debt to build a stadium for an outside group.
In Fredericksburg, the proposal fell apart when the partnership between the Suns and Diamond Nation, a New Jersey-based company that sponsors baseball tournaments, disintegrated.
Diamond Nation does not own the site under discussion, Freehling said. The site is owned by an affiliate of the Silver Cos.
Freehling said the Potomac Nationals deal is better than the one considered with the Suns because it does not require the city to own and build a parking facility and it allows the city to use the stadium and generate revenue on non-baseball days.
He added that the Potomac Nationals are a level higher than the Hagerstown Suns and that, if located in Fredericksburg, there would be no other team within 50 miles to compete with for attendance.
In his remarks Tuesday, Silber said he has already engaged an architect and a general contractor for the project. He discussed his plans for the stadium, which include a splash pad and an all-you-can-eat crab shack among other entertainment and amenities.
“Our job is to provide affordable family entertainment in a physically safe environment,” Silber said.
“We believe in what we want to do here and what we want to do with you,” he said. “I cannot tell you how strongly we believe in what we’re seeing in this community.”
Council member Chuck Frye spoke of the number of lower-income families in the city and said the stadium will be a place where people who can’t afford to attend Washington Nationals games can enjoy live baseball.
“You never know what 10-year-old or 8-year-old kid is out there with dreams of the pros who would love this,” Frye said. “And a dream is sometimes good enough to live on.
“And you know, this is the kind of thing that might make us officially a city,” he said.
The non-binding letter of intent and other information about the project are available at FredericksburgBaseball.com.