A proposed taxpayer-financed minor league baseball stadium in Spotsylvania County appears to be off the table—at least for now.
Hagerstown Suns owner Bruce Quinn had until the end of July to reach a deal on a county-owned stadium for his team, according to a deadline set by Minor League Baseball.
But Quinn never formally responded to Spotsylvania’s request for a meeting after the Board of Supervisors voted July 14 to continue negotiating with the Suns. The team owner had asked the county to vote on his latest proposal, which he called his final offer.
“We have no plans of negotiating this term sheet,” Quinn wrote in an email to the county on July 7. “Time has run its course, and baseball has requested this opportunity come to a resolution before July 31st.”
Supervisor Gary Skinner acknowledged this week that he and the other stadium supporters “lost this battle, but there are other ones to fight.”
“I plan to keep the door open. It may not be with the Suns, but I think in the future Spotsylvania deserves a team,” said Skinner, who called the outcome a big loss for the county.
The chance of any future discussions of a publicly financed baseball stadium may hinge on the results of the Nov. 3 election. Courtland District Supervisor David Ross—who opposes a taxpayer-funded stadium—is being challenged by Joseph Kingman, who in May expressed some support for the project.
At a meeting May 5, shortly after the stadium had been publicly announced, Kingman called the stadium proposal a “metaphor” for why he’s running. “We need to be able to attract high-paying jobs and revenue-generating companies ... and I think that a stadium deal is a way to do that,” Kingman said at the time. “We need to have vision; we need to get off of the track of saying no over and over to economic development.”
Kingman added that the proposal wasn’t perfect, and said he thought the supervisors needed more time to study it before voting. If he is elected, the seven-member board would potentially have four votes in support of a stadium.
Kingman said in a recent email that it was unfortunate the county wasn’t given enough time to reach a win-win conclusion. “If I earn the support of my fellow citizens and am elected, I will always work to bring opportunities to fruition, and in responsible ways that put the county first,” he wrote.
Ross said he thought the race would determine whether the county pursues a baseball stadium any further. “As the fiscal conservative representative of the Courtland District, I would welcome government ownership of a baseball stadium as a campaign issue,” he said.
The other contested election is between Livingston District candidates Greg Benton, a Republican, and Democrat Robert Martin. Both have expressed opposition to a publicly financed stadium. “To me, it’s not worth it,” Martin said in a recent interview. “It’s on the verge of corporate welfare for the baseball team, to be honest.”
Benton edged incumbent Ann Heidig—who at the time was viewed as the swing vote on the stadium—for the GOP nomination at a mass meeting of party members in May. Shortly thereafter, Heidig announced she would not run for re-election as an independent.
The Rappahannock Baseball Initiative, which lobbied for the stadium, wrote on its Facebook page Thursday that it was taking a break, but would continue trying to attract a team to the area after the November election. The message stated that Heidig was the potential fourth “yes” vote, but that she had decided not to back the stadium.
“While we are very disappointed and disagree strongly with her decision not to support this unprecedented offer and incredible opportunity, we are grateful to her for giving us her thoughtful consideration,” the Facebook post stated.
Heidig said the two sides were never able to sit down and try to hash out an agreement. Minor League Baseball’s deadlines made the negotiations next to impossible, she added.
“To say that I was the deciding vote when there’s been no vote, I don’t know how that works,” Heidig said. “Because I was still willing to listen.”
At this point, she said, there is nothing more the county can do. “I can’t see where there’s any point in going any further because we said we wanted to sit down and talk, and we’ve never heard from the owner,” Heidig said. “I would assume that the owner or his rep could have come to speak to us if baseball was serious about coming to Spotsylvania County.”
The Free Lance–Star’s repeated efforts to reach Quinn in recent weeks have been unsuccessful.
The three-month debate over the stadium was contentious, with some residents accusing supervisors of being “on the take.” The critics greatly outnumbered the proponents at public meetings, though some of the supporters described the opponents as a vocal tea party-led minority.
The supervisors voted to spend up to $30,000 on an outside attorney, who recently billed the county $6,069 for almost 12 hours of work. That work from Houston attorney Mark Arnold included drafting a nonbinding memorandum of understanding between the county and team.
When and if a stadium proposal resurfaces, Skinner said, he hopes to bring out more supporters “to show that truly this is what the Spotsylvania citizens want.”
“My feeling is, we’re setting a precedent—now if you don’t like what the board is doing, go ahead and slander your board members,” Skinner said.