The dream of bringing minor league baseball to Fredericksburg will wait a while longer.
After hearing from Fredericksburg City staff and the owner of the Hagerstown Suns, Bruce Quinn, City Council listens to more than 40 local residents. They all come to take about the proposed $30 million publicly funded baseball stadium at one of two Celebrate Virginia locations. The comments and debate that follows go on for nearly three hours.
Many of the speakers are for the idea of baseball here, but have concerns about the deal on the table. While some supporters and the owners argue their is nothing set in stone, a tentative lease deal has been in the works for months. A special tax district that would cause Central Park businesses to pay more is one sticking point. If the funding ends up as general obligation bonds for 30 years instead, the money could come from local residents in the way of higher real estate taxes. If the city issues the bonds, it would use up more than 28 percent of its' remaining bonding power. A big chunk was already spent on the new courthouse, a high school and elementary school. Others are concerned about traffic impacts and noise brought in by games, concerts and other events at the multi-use stadium.
The Suns' owner tells us he thinks Fredericksburg is a great fit for their hometown team to relocate. The lease on its' stadium in Hagerstown is up at the end of next year and a new one in the Burg' could take 18 months to complete, from start to finish.
The City Council was to vote Tuesday on whether to send the plan to local Planning Commissioners, but decided to wait. It needs to decide whether to amend the comprehensive plan to make the stadium possible in the area. Already private entertainment venues, like Funland, are allowed in Central Park, but a publicly funded entertainment facility would need to be added to the plan.
Council members on a five to four vote, with one member absent, give the nod to allow continuing negotiations. That means that a memorandum of understanding and an exclusive contract with the Suns stays in place for another month. Councilman Fred Howe and Vice Mayor Brad Ellis will continue meetings with the team. They have agreed that any and all funding options, including public bonds are on the table. Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw and Councilman George Solley have indicated they won't likely support any such option.
The council will address the issue again on August 13th. If it gets the go ahead to move to the Planning Commission, there will be another public hearing there and back at City Council again before a final deal is closed.
The Suns' Quinn had hoped to have everything wrapped up by this October and have a stadium built by the start the 2015 season.