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Opinion: Richmond Needs New Plan for Practice Facility

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Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)

 

It appears that Richmond's elected officials are tired of being taken by the fourth-richest team in the NFL.

Either that or they fear a taxpayer insurrection if the city does not get out from under the money-hemorrhaging Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center.

As the team prepares to enter its sixth summer in Richmond, the city's Economic Development Authority and the Redskins are facing a July 1 deadline to extend the training camp arrangement beyond the initial eight-year term.

Jim Nolan, press secretary for Mayor Levar Stoney, said the mayor does not favor an extension of the contract under its existing terms. "He believes that any future agreement with the team should not include a cash contribution from the city," Nolan said.

That makes sense. After all, Stoney's predecessor, Dwight C. Jones, owns the 2012 agreement between the city and the team.

Meanwhile, the City Council wants the team to pick up the $500,000 the EDA agreed to pay the team annually to cover the cost of training in Richmond.

Because the EDA could not repay the $10 million loan from the city to build the training camp facility, the council agreed in February to pay $750,000 a year for the next 15 years to avoid defaulting. The kicker: The council wants the football team to assume that annual payment.

Eight council members have signed on to a resolution not to renew the deal unless the team absorbs those costs.

It's likely the Redskins organization's response could be characterized by the text message abbreviation "ROTFL!" (Rolling on the floor laughing).

The team snookered Richmond in this deal pushed by Jones. No doubt, it would gladly leave Richmond rather than take on these additional costs.

If that's the case, the feeling appears to be mutual.

"At this point, I feel like we should just cut our losses," Council President Chris Hilbert said.

"I have to do what's in the best interest of the city of Richmond. This (deal) has proved less than adequate. If the Redskins don't want to be here or don't feel like that's the price they want to pay, that's their decision."

Councilwoman Kristen Larson also sounded like someone ready to run out the clock on this deal.

"What do we have to lose?" she asked. "We're already paying for the whole freaking thing."

"It's a beautiful facility. But when I'm out in the community and when I'm talking to folks — residents who live here and say what they love about Richmond and what they use in terms of resources in the city — this is not on the short list. ... So I felt pretty confident my constituents would be OK with us walking away from the deal."

Call it a teachable moment. Richmond was a too-eager suitor living above its means — and doling out empty promises — to obtain an object of desire way out of its league.

Now that the city got played, what happens next?

Well, there are options, some more plausible than others.

"I think the EDA has the building. I think it's in good location. ... I wouldn't say it's out of the realm to call that Scott's Addition. And I think there's plenty of uses for that building," Hilbert said of the training center facility, which includes an event space.

"It's well-located, it's well-constructed ... you've got the Science Museum there. Everybody and their uncle wants to go in that area, so I don't see that being a problem leasing out that space."

He mused that the EDA could build another building on the property. "I don't know of any neighborhood that's more on fire, real estate-wise, than Scott's Addition."

Virginia Commonwealth University has been bandied about as an institution that might view the training camp property as a field of dreams. In many ways, it seems like a natural fit for the landlocked urban university.

"VCU athletics is an incredibly important part of our community, and they need more green fields to play on," said Jon Lugbill, executive director of Sports Backers. "And having them in close proximity to their campus is important."

"Our whole region benefits by having a high-quality, major Division I school here," he said.

But there's one obvious problem with this scenario: See the name of the training center. Bon Secours and VCU are health care competitors.

We all know Richmond Public Schools is facilities-challenged, from its classrooms to its locker rooms to its playing fields. The training camp, at its essence, is an area of athletic fields.

"Well, certainly, the athletic fields are important," Hilbert said. "The state champion in basketball (John Marshall High) can't play football at night. There are no lights over here either, but it's a nice facility."

Neither are there bleachers at a training camp built to the specifications of the Redskins.

"The challenge that I saw when I was on the School Board, in terms of the schools using the facility, which I'm completely open to, is that it is not really set up for those types of events," Larson said.

"I would be open to it, but would really like to see some revenue generated from somewhere to help pay off this note," Larson said.

Huguenot High School, which is in her South Side district, has a fine football facility befitting a new school. (The school's water-damaged gym floor is another matter.) "If we could have something like that on North Side, that would be awesome, too."

Hilbert said that from his perspective, school-based athletic fields are a preference.

But maybe we're thinking too small here.

Richmond needs upgraded school buildings even more than it needs athletic fields. Could the Bon Secours building at the training center be retrofitted into a K-8 school building, at less than it would cost to build a new school from scratch?

Nothing should be off the table as we attempt to salvage something positive from the bad call that brought this team to Richmond.

mwilliams@timesdispatch.com (804) 649-6815 Twitter: @RTDMPW

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March 20, 2018
 
 
 

 

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