As stadium site selection and financing remain question marks for the city to retain the Hagerstown Suns, a new privately-driven proposal to bring professional baseball to Fredericksburg, Va., is in the works that has “enormous potential,” according to Suns majority owner Bruce Quinn.
The Suns have partnered with Diamond Nation, a New Jersey-based company, that plans to privately finance and build a “destination” complex that will include a 5,000-seat minor league baseball stadium, as well as amateur baseball and softball facilities on roughly 45 acres in that city’s Celebrate Virginia South development, according to Quinn, a letter to Fredericksburg businesses and media reports.
“I think it could be the largest sports entertainment complex in the country, on the East Coast at least,” Quinn said in a telephone interview Tuesday night.
Jud Honaker, an official with Silver Cos., which is developing Celebrate Virginia South and working in conjunction with the Suns, wrote in a open letter announcing the proposal that the amateur facilities will consist of six artificial turf fields, replicating a similar complex Diamond Nation already runs in New Jersey.
“The new partnership will assume the risk associated with building the new stadium complex, which will also be utilized by a variety of interests in addition to the Suns for a multitude of entertainment purposes,” Honaker wrote in the letter.
The Fredericksburg City Council, which hasn’t agreed to any deal yet, met in closed session Tuesday night to discuss what offers are currently on the table from both the city and the Suns, according to City Councilman Fred Howe, who noted the elected body is not yet in the “decision stage.”
Diamond Nation officials have been in a closed-door sessions with Fredericksburg’s negotiating team in recent weeks and “have been subsequently back and forth with the city” on the proposal, which calls for the city to purchase adjacent land to the planned development and build a shared parking lot for use by the stadium and other businesses, according to Quinn.
The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star newspaper reports that the city has been asked to buy about 15 acres for the 1,800-space parking lot, which is estimated would cost between $7 million to $8 million. It could be used for other events in addition to parking for games, according to the newspaper.
“The city has the option of using a service district to pay for the parking lot,” Honaker wrote in his letter.
Quinn said he got involved with Diamond Nation through a separate business venture, in which he helped design a business strategy and web product for an educational program geared to aspiring athletes, called Club Diamond Nation.
Former professional baseball players Barry Larkin, Jack Cust Jr. and Kevin Long, as well as U.S. softball Olympian Jennie Finch, are partners in the business, he said.
The plan is to integrate the businesses in Fredericksburg, making it the “most unique baseball and softball entertainment and training complex on the East Coast,” Quinn said.
After hearing considerable opposition from the public, Fredericksburg officials stepped back from an initial proposal from the Suns — a low-level Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals — to publicly finance a multiuse stadium that was estimated to cost about $30 million.
Closed meeting challenged
Fredericksburg’s negotiating team of Howe, Vice Mayor Brad Ellis and City Manager Beverly Cameron previously met with Suns representatives in closed session after a scheduled public meeting was called off at the last minute at the advice of the city attorney.
Howe said it was a “business decision” to still hold the meeting, which allowed both parties to present their proposals to each other.
As a result, Liberty Guard, a national government watchdog group, is filing an injunction against the Fredericksburg City Council claiming it violated Virginia open meetings laws by holding closed-door sessions with the Suns.
It’s unclear at this point how that injunction — and any potential rulings — may affect current talks, but Howe said the team’s new proposal presents a “very exciting concept” for additional business and economic development opportunities to work into the overall project.
“It’s been a pretty exciting evolution to see how the opportunity has kind of morphed into some additional economic development potential for the city,” Howe said.
Quinn, who acknowledged that new lease and stadium talks are still ongoing in Hagerstown, shared Howe’s excitement for the proposed project in Fredericksburg.