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Richmond’s Redskins Deal Gets Even Weirder

By Peter Galuszka

The deal for the Washington Redskins to build a summer training facility gets richer, more one-sided and more questionable by the day.

The latest wrinkle, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch,  is that the City of Richmond will use money from its school and jail budgets to pony up a $10 million loan so the ‘Skins can start training in Richmond instead of Loudoun County next summer.

The dollars do add up. When the move was announced last summer, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell said the state would pay $4 million over the next two years to move the Redskins summer training camp from Ashburn. Loudoun will pay $2 million over the next four years to help the NFL club refurbish its headquarters, which will stay in Ashburn while training moves south.

Richmond will add $400,000. It had originally been earmarked for upgrading an old stadium in the city for the Skins but now it will go as part of the $10 million “loan” to help the football team develop 17 acres near Richmond’s venerable, architecturally significant Union Stadium that is now a science museum. The field will be leased from the state .

But wait, that’s not all. Bon Secours hospitals intends to invest $40 million as part of the project, including building two football fields a medical office and other facilities. Bon Secours will pay $6.4 million in naming rights and in rent.

In exchange, Bon Secours gets what could be considered a very good deal on some choice property. It will get a 60-year-lease for $5,000 a year for four acres near its St. Mary’s Hospital not far from the training facility. The non-profit hospital group plans to use the acreage, known as the Westhampton School site, for a $24 million expansion of St. Mary’s. It will also invest $8.5 million to expand a hospital elsewhere in the city.

What kind of skin are the Redskins putting in the game? After all they are worth $1.3 billion and are the third-richest team in the NFL. Zero, it appears.

Good deal for the Skins But for everyone else it seems like a lot of money and   convolution for a facility that will operate only three weeks during the dog days of summer. Proponents, typically freshly re-elected Mayor Dwight Jones and members of Richmond’s business elite, including Michael Frazier, former head of financial firm Genworth, claim the deal, just endorsed by the City Council, will be a huge boon for the city. They expected thousands of tourists and fans will brave the summer humidity to watch the Redskins train. If they have kids, they can then go to the Science Museum, then perhaps Hardee’s or McDonald’s, and, if they sprain their ankle, they can go to one of the Bon Secours clinics.

Critics, such as former city councilman Manoli Loupassi, say the deal doesn’t make sense and may stink, notably the Bon Secours part for the Westhampton property. Annual payments will be probably well less than half of what most of us pay for our house mortgages or rents.

Proponent Frazier defended the arrangement this way:

“Sure, the city could sell the Westhampton site to the highest bidder for a few million dollars, as some suggest. But the proposed agreement instead yields over $40 million of investment, expands health services and generates new jobs and taxes at three different locations in Richmond. The city will continue to own the site, protecting future investments.”

Bearing Drift and sometime BR blogger Norm Leahy took that logic apart in this Bearing Drift post. He does it well, so click away.

The plan, of course, depends on so many thousand people who are willing to rent hotel rooms for a few days to watch the Redskins. For more strong and skeptical reporting, see this analysis by Scott Bass at Style Weekly.

City officials insist that taking $4 million from building a new jail and $5.6 million from building new schools is no big deal. But of course it is. The current jail is a mess and has been racked by cronyism and management problems. Richmond’s schools suffer the usual inner city problems and are nowhere near the level of Richmond’s suburban systems.

Another problem is that the other sports facility in town, baseball’s Diamond, badly needs renovation or replacement. The facility used by the Flying Squirrels, a farm club of the San Francisco Giants, is a major draw. There’s no question that fans support it but the Diamond’s failings prompted the Atlanta Braves to move their farm club to Georgia a few years ago. The Squirrels likewise may take flight if nothing is done.

The predicament is soooo Richmond. Despite its pretensions, the city has a lot of serious problems that it just doesn’t face. Its priorities are skewed. When some deal like the Skins comes, the city turns itself into a pretzel with a bunch of loopy arrangements based on questionable predictions of public interest. Residents are told by professional cheerleaders that it’s all brilliant. Buck up! We’re the “Capital of Creativity!”

Who actually benefits? The business elite, of course.