Editorial Regarding the Proposed New Minor League Baseball Stadium
Ruth Anderson, Occoquan District Supervisor, Prince William Board of County Supervisors
Many of us in Prince William County (PWC) love having Pfitzner Stadium and the Potomac Nationals (P-Nats) close enough to attend games and to enjoy all that comes with hosting a Single A-Advanced, Minor League Baseball team. Now the Prince William Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) is faced with decisions about building a new stadium complex using taxpayer money and relocating the site to privately-owned land.
The current stadium, built in the early 80s and known first as Davis Ford Park and then as the PWC Stadium Complex before being named G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium, is located on county-owned land and has always been owned by PWC. The stadium was originally financed through a Lease Purchase Agreement, funded by taxpayers, for about $1.3 million. For the past few decades, it has been leased to Mr. Silber, owner of the P-Nats, for about $35 to $40 thousand per year to pay for utilities. Taxpayers have funded repairs and improvements totaling over $2 million from FY 2005 to FY 2017. And, PWC has received some tax revenue from P-Nats income.
A few years ago, Mr. Silber announced that a new stadium, meeting Minor League Baseball standards, was “a must” for the P-Nats to continue playing in PWC past the 2018 season. He also announced that he would pay for the new stadium, now estimated at $35 million. JBG developers, owners of Potomac Town Center, offered the use of some adjacent land along Opitz. Because of the need for road improvements and parking, the BOCS was involved and requested state funds to build structured parking by the stadium site to be used by commuters on weekdays and by fans during games. As time went on, state taxpayer money did become available for much of the structured parking needs and some road improvements but Mr. Silber was not able to find investors or sell naming rights to pay for the new stadium. That led Mr. Silber to the BOCS with a proposal to fund the stadium via a $35 million bond, backed by PWC taxpayers, where he would pay the annual debt service. It all sounds good until you dive into some details.
Mr. Silber is telling P-Nats fans that he is footing the whole stadium bill and that PWC would own the stadium once the 30-year bond is paid. His plan is to pay about $3 million dollars for annual bond debt service. If all goes well and the P-Nats get many more fans than they have today, Mr. Silber should be able to pay those bills. But, if things do not work out as envisioned, his planned reserve account only covers one year of expenses. After one year, PWC taxpayers would be liable to pay the debt service or risk losing their AAA bond rating. Truth be known, there is no guarantee that the P-Nats (or any Minor League team) would continue to play in the new stadium for the length of the bond. Moreover, this payment plan is only for the stadium structure. Taxpayers will pay the millions of dollars needed for garage site development, necessary road improvements, and additional monies needed for the structured parking facility. For me, this is a risky financial plan. Other unanswered questions are troublesome too: Is it legal for a public garage to sit on private land leased by PWC? Who will own the stadium at the end of 30 years? How much will the land leases cost during the 30 years and beyond? Despite the stadium being available for county or private events during the off-season, how much will be charged?
I love having the P-Nats in PWC. But, should taxpayers be liable for a $35 million-plus stadium complex? I don’t think so. Taxpayer money should be for core government services. In my opinion, this includes public education, public transit, public works, human services and economic development. If I was confident the stadium would bring an economic boon…I would be all for it. But, simple research finds that similar stadium deals have enhanced some localities and ruined others. I have been a “NO” vote so far on stadium votes because negotiations have not produced a fiscally responsible plan. I did vote in favor of putting the Stadium Question on the ballot this fall so that taxpayers could have a say…but, that plan did not pass…so, there will not be a referendum. Negotiations will continue and I will be a NO vote until a fiscally responsible plan is proposed.