It looks as though residents in Prince William County will not be able to vote in a referendum on whether or not they’d like a new Potomac Nationals Stadium.
See our earlier coverage for context on the stadium here.
At the 2 p.m. Prince William Board of County Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, the Minor League Baseball President Pat O’Conner spoke about the Potomac Nationals Stadium.
According to O’Conner, facility standards for baseball stadiums for the league were put in place in 1991, which meant that the Pfitzner Stadium where the team currently plays was grandfathered in.
“With respect to Pfitzner specifically, Pfitzner is currently compliant only through some variances and some grandfathering, as Pfitzner was built prior to the guidelines coming into effect. Recent renovations have improved Pfitzner, but it’s still not compliant, and it’s not a suitable home moving forward,” said O’Conner.
O’Conner refuted questions about why the Silber family – the family that owns the Potomac Nationals team – couldn’t simply rebuild on the site of the existing stadium because it would cost as much if not more than the proposed $35 million stadium to be built off of Opitz Boulevard on the Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center property.
During his comments, O’Conner stated that all Minor League Baseball teams have to submit debt information to the league each year to ensure the team would not go into default. He also stated the Potomac Nationals were a team in “good standing”.
“We take very seriously paying our bills and being good corporate citizens,” said O’Conner.
When speaking about the specifics of the deal between the team and the county, O’Conner asserted that the deal was a beneficial one for the county.
“In the proposal that is before you, some feel like the [Potomac Nationals team] is not assuming any risk….I would suggest to you that the Silbers and the Silber family and Art are risking everything by offering to enter into this agreement with the county. Because if this agreement does not work…Art and his family run the risk of losing their entire asset…We typically see a public-private relationship and financial relationship that is 70% public and 30% private…we have never seen, outside of a purely privately financed stadium, of which none has been built in over 15 years, any proposal that would suggest 50/50 public-private, let alone something even more onerous to the owner,” O’Conner said continuing, “If you are interested in having Minor League Baseball, I see this as a considerable positive deal for the citizens of this county.”
During the evening meeting of the board, a long list of residents spoke for and against building the new Potomac Nationals stadium, ahead of the board’s vote on whether or not to put the project to a referendum.
Roger Snyder, a former county employee, spoke about the need for the referendum on the project.
“We the voters, 450,000 people in this county, want the opportunity to vote on it. I think it will pass – I really think it’ll pass…but then the people who vote you in and out of office will have the opportunity to say ‘yes’. I think it’s a lousy deal,” said Snyder.
When providing comments on the project, Tom Sebastian of JBG Companies – the company that owns and operates Stonebridge – updated the supervisors, stating that an additional $5 million would be needed for the project to make traffic improvements to the site.
Sebastian also spoke against the proposed referendum.
“We agreed on a process…from the very beginning [a referendum] was never a part of the process that the parties agreed to. If we had known at the beginning that that’s where this was headed, we would have not opted to proceed with the project,” said Sebastian.
But not all residents were against the building of the stadium.
“Having seen the new stadium plans, it would seem that it is a no brainer to approve the construction of the new stadium…I would much rather see the economic benefit to the county in a 24-month timeframe, then the chance to lose a proven job provider – a source of much needed tax revenue, and a source of worthwhile famiy entertainment,” said Woodbridge resident Bill Bender.
Following public comment, Supervisor Pete Candland spoke about why he pushed for a motion to call for a referendum.
“This is a very unusual project – this is not building a library, this is not building a school, this is not building those normal things that board of County Supervisors do…and it is so unusual, the deal is so unusual and requires such an enormous amount of risk…if we’re going to obligate tax payers for 30 years with this deal…and that’s why it felt it was important for this to go to a referendum,” said Candland.
The vote for the referendum failed with a 4-4 vote, with Anderson, Caddigan, Candland, and Lawson voting in favor, and Jenkins, Nohe, Principi, and Stewart voting against.
Another recent development that could throw a kink in the plans to build the stadium was a recent opinion issued by the Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring on a similar case, stating that governmental bodies cannot use their bonding authority to the benefit of a private company per the Credit Clause of the Virginia Constitution.
Here’s a statement from the county communications office on the development:
The Board is considering the construction of a baseball stadium facility that can accommodate a Minor League Baseball team with the understanding that such a facility will benefit the County citizens by providing sports and recreation opportunities, improving the quality of life in the County, providing a gathering place for the community, and other such public purposes. The question about the use of public funds for this particular project is one of the reasons why the Board is exploring a bond validation suit, whereby a judge would make the determination as to whether the proposed bond sale and use are legal. This determination would be made before the sale or use of any bonds.
Supervisor Lawson addressed the issue prior to the vote on the referendum, stating that it could take 18 months before the suit for a bond determination could potentially be finished.
“We’re not looking at a brand new stadium unless that bond validation suit is successful, and you’re in for a long haul on that one,” said Lawson.
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