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The economics of baseball in Fredericksburg, part I
GEORGE WASHINGTON, legend has it, hurled a silver dollar across the Rappahannock River, the rough equivalent of a center fielder throwing out a base runner at home plate without the help of a cutoff man. Thus the Father of Our Country was first in, besides all those other things, arms.
Yet concerning baseball, the sport prefigured by young George's feat, it wasn't Washington who slept here--it was us. Since 1877, some 48 Virginia locales have hosted minor league teams, but never Fredericksburg or its neighboring counties. Now history may be made--or, more properly, resumed--as the City Council weighs a proposal to build a stadium for a team.
The Hagerstown Suns, a Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, want to move to thriving Fredericksburg, their 82-year-old Maryland ballpark having fallen below Major League Baseball's standards. The deal they are offering our fair city is multifaceted but hardy mystifying. As The Free Lance-Star's Bill Freehling has pellucidly explained, it consists of these basic components:
the issuance of up to $30 million in bonds for stadium construction by the city, which would own the facility;
a real estate surtax on property owners in Central Park and Celebrate Virginia, the proposed site for the 5,000-seat stadium, to help retire municipal-bond debt of about $1.9 million annually;
a $3 million purchase of stadium land by the Suns (the city would hold title to the land);
rent from the team, the auctioning of naming rights, and team-city profit-sharing, all of which also would go toward debt service;
the city's retention of part of the state sales taxes collected at the stadium--a boon crafted in the legislature by House Speaker Bill Howell (R) and state Sen. Bryce Reeves (R). This also would go toward debt service.
Every jot and tittle of the Suns' offer deserves hard scrutiny--$30 million isn't the kind of change they make at the lemonade stand--and a crucial concern is how the team would draw. Everything goes blooey if they build it and nobody comes.
Fortunately, there seems little cause for anxiety. Calling Fredericksburg "ideal for minor league baseball," the program-management firm Brailsford & Dunlavey--which was paid $27,000 by the Fredericksburg Economic Development Authority to evaluate MiLB prospects here--predicts near-term capacity crowds and more than 4,000 spectators nightly after the team's first five years--a leonine gait.