WASHINGTON — Fredericksburg is interested in welcoming the Potomac Nationals to the region and officials say it is well-prepared to have those talks.
“[It is] a distinct possibility, yes,” Fredericksburg city Councilman Matt Kelly told WTOP.
The City of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County each had talks with the Hagerstown Suns about moving to the Fredericksburg area a couple years ago. Those talks fell apart and the team signed a short-term extension to stay in its current park.
But that experience of evaluating the possibility of bringing minor league baseball to Fredericksburg has city officials confident it could be a good home for a team.
“This is something that is a goal for the city to build and have what we would refer to as a multi-use outdoor facility,” Kelly said. “Not just baseball, but the facility could be used for concerts and other events, which is the model most minor league teams use today, anyway. You don’t make all of the money on baseball, it’s concerts and everything and that’s what we are really looking for. Baseball is kind of a way to move the project forward.”
Last week, Spotsylvania County officials told WTOP that having the team move there would be a bit of a jurisdictional hassle since it is technically within the exclusive territory of the Richmond Flying Squirrels.
The City of Fredericksburg is not in that zone, which means a team could move there without much bureaucratic hassle from Minor League Baseball.
As for where a team could play in the city, Kelly said there are plenty of options to consider.
“When we were dealing with the Hagerstown Suns, we looked at every possibility,” Kelly explained. “We looked at city-owned facility leased back [to the team], a team-owned facility. We looked at a number of different models that could potentially work.”
For the city, it is more about what all sides want out of a new stadium.
“One of the issues we had in our discussions on baseball beforehand is we had a lot people saying ‘We want the team to build it and we want to use it,'” said Kelly. “Well, if they’re going to build and own it and maintain it, then it’s a private concern and we can’t tell them that you have to give us usage of the facility. Whereas if we own it, we would have more control over how it’s used.”
Since the team is likely wanting to have the stadium be more than just a home for a professional baseball team, should the Potomac Nationals move to the city, Kelly said it’s a matter of how much use — and cost — the residents want out of it.
Kelly said there are plenty of options as for where the stadium could be built.
“If they were to go to Fredericksburg, we have a number of sites in and around the I-95 area which is what a team would want to have, to have that exposure to the interstate,” Kelly said. “Some of the sites we would look at are in and around what we would refer to as the ‘Celebrate Virginia area,’ which is just across the Rappahannock River, bordering I-95.”
Just because Fredericksburg has interest doesn’t mean the team must play within the city’s limits.
Kelly said the city is looking to make this a regional project and would like to talk to its neighbors to the north and south to see if they would be interested in being part of the process.
“I think Stafford would be willing to work with this as a regional project. If you look into the past discussions in Spotsylvania County, I don’t think there’s a lot of interest on the political side to go down this road.”
The city has not spoken to team officials yet about a possible move, but Kelly would love to have a meeting.
“The first step for us would be what are you looking for and what do you expect from the city to make this happen,” Kelly said. “What do you bring to the table, to see if we can come to a meeting of the minds.”
The councilman also believes Fredericksburg stacks up favorably against other parts of Northern Virginia that may also have an interest in welcoming the Potomac Nationals.
“We did preliminary designs for a stadium under the first go-round,” Kelly said. “So we have a lot of information available. We’ve already done economic impact studies on what baseball and a facility like this would bring — which, again, gives us a leg up.”
Alexandria officials have said they are interested in talking to the team about bringing the Potomac Nationals back to the city, which had hosted the team before it moved to Prince William County in the 1980s.
Loudoun County has said the team is more than welcome to move there, since there are already two stadium zones approved and a third with Metro access that could also be easily approved.
Officials there touted the nation’s top per capita income and hunger for local entertainment as big drivers to draw private financing to a plan. But using public money to pay for a stadium isn’t ideal.
“I do not want to see us get into a bidding war or such with any of the localities,” Kelly stated.
“Some conversations need to be had with Prince William to say, OK, we understand that it’s not working over there. Are you going to be making any counteroffers that you feel we are being put in the position of playing one off the other?”
The councilman said he wants to avoid any business tricks, but noted he doesn’t think that’s the case based on conversations he’s had with his colleagues to the north.
But for him, it all starts with talks.
“We would love to have the conversation and see where it takes us. I think there needs to be some exceptions with the public on what are our goals and if we want certain things, what we’re going to have to put on the table to make it happen.”