The price tag for the Washington Redskins training camp and attached park area has pushed about $800,000 past the original $10 million appropriation from Richmond, prompting questions from City Council members over whether the Richmond Economic Development Authority, which is building the facility, has the authority to approve the extra spending.
“They are going ahead and building something largely on spec,” said Councilman Parker C. Agelasto, 5th District. “They have taken a liability. … This is money they don’t have on hand.”
Rich Johnson, chairman of the board of the authority, which was charged with building and running the training camp facility nearing completion on West Leigh Street, says the extra cost comes from developing the park at the western edge of the 17-acre parcel in the first phase of the project rather than the second.
“It’s really a timing difference,” Johnson said. “But I don’t see it as an unforeseen cost or unplanned cost in any way, shape or form.”
The EDA board voted in March to increase the budget for the project by nearly $1.1 million, but Johnson said in an interview Tuesday that the extra cost will be closer to $800,000.
“We were able to lower the cost,” he said.
The park, intended to replace the wooded area and fitness trail leveled by the development, was initially envisioned as a “Phase II” expense that would be funded in part through a sale of naming rights and built after the rush to get the training camp ready in time for the Redskins to use it this summer, Johnson said.
“We always knew we were going to need to build a park,” Johnson said.
However, a shift in the plans last fall required by the Science Museum of Virginia, which is next door to the Redskins camp, necessitated realignments that made it more economical to incorporate the park into the first phase, he added.
“It’s just cheaper to build it all in one phase,” Johnson said. “Better for the public, better for the Redskins, better for the budget.”
Councilwoman Kathy Graziano, 4th District, who chairs the council’s Finance and Economic Development Committee, said the city attorney has been asked to weigh in on the Economic Development Authority’s vote.
“It came to light this weekend. We have not been briefed by the administration on it, which I hope will happen soon,” said Graziano, who served on the mayor’s site-selection committee for the Redskins project. “He’s reviewing the written agreement and what the options are as far as if they’re over their budget. … It’s a very complicated deal and a complicated contract, so I think it’s going to take some time to figure out exactly where we are.”
Agelasto said he considered the move an “overreach” by the EDA based on the development agreement with the city, which specifies what the money derived from naming rights and leases can be used for, including paying back city taxpayers for their investment in the project.
“The EDA made assumptions about what their authority was, without clarifying what the city assumptions were about the use of the money,” he said. “They’ve allocated additional funds to this project without seeking permission. … In my opinion, that’s a violation of the agreement.”
The Redskins are holding their training camp in Richmond for eight years, starting in July, as part of an economic incentive deal with the state that kept the team’s headquarters in Ashburn.
In October, Mayor Dwight C. Jones announced a complex deal between the city, the team and Bon Secours Richmond Health System to build a facility for the team on state land behind the Science Museum that Bon Secours, the major sponsor, will also use for men’s health and sports medicine offices.
The city pulled $10 million from the budgets for city jail and school construction that officials said was not going to be used this year, and made a “recoverable grant” to the EDA to get the training camp project started. That money was intended to be recouped through sponsorships and lease payments at the new facility. Bon Secours alone is committed to $6.4 million over 10 years.
The EDA is authorized under state law and governed by a board that includes seven members appointed by the City Council and one from the city Department of Economic and Community Development.
Johnson says the EDA will use Bon Secours’ first payment of $831,250 to bridge the gap.
He added that the city Department of Economic and Community Development has taken the lead in attempting to secure additional sponsors for the training camp, which were billed as the primary vehicle for recouping the city’s investment.
“It’s started. … It’s not in high gear at this point,” Johnson said. “They are absolutely engaged in that process.”
City Council President Charles R. Samuels, whose 2nd District includes the training camp, described the budget issue as another communications breakdown. There was public uproar months ago over trees that were clear-cut from the site despite prior assertions that as many as possible would be preserved.
“I think we have to work out a plan to ensure there is better communication between the EDA, the city administration and the City Council,” Samuels said. “We’re going to be asking ... a lot of questions to ensure we know exactly what’s happening and don’t get caught in a situation where the EDA can’t repay.”