City Council OKs expensive NFL training center refinancing

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 3/1/2018, 1:26 a.m.
Taxpayers cannot escape paying for the Washington pro football team’s summer training camp, a reluctant Richmond City Council has decided.

Taxpayers cannot escape paying for the Washington pro football team’s summer training camp, a reluctant Richmond City Council has decided.

By a 6-3 margin, City Council members gave the green light Monday to the administration’s plan to refinance $8.6 million to cover the remaining debt on the Leigh Street training camp complex that also includes medical offices of the Bon Secours Health System.

The plan allows City Hall to borrow $8.5 million to pay off a short-term loan that comes due Sept. 1, along with an additional $100,000 to cover the cost of issuing 15-year bonds.

The cost to taxpayers: $750,000 a year, or $11.25 million in principal and interest, according to the request from Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s administration.

That’s a big difference from a deal that was sold to City Council in 2012 when then-Mayor Dwight C. Jones promoted the idea for a training camp, which opened in 2013. At that time, the council was told there was no risk to borrow $10 million from funds for school maintenance and the jail because the training camp would be paid off in five years.

But the revenue from the camp, located behind the Science Museum of Virginia, and other elements has fallen far short of the advance projections. While Bon Secours paid for naming rights at the camp, the Richmond Economic Development Authority spent much of the money developing a park and completing the building’s second floor that has remained largely vacant.

Council members appeared poised to postpone a vote for 60 days in order to have more time to review the new borrowing plan.

But the prospect for delay ended when Lenora Reid, the city’s chief financial officer, disclosed a problem not mentioned previously when she and other officials discussed the plan for the bond issue with a City Council committee during three meetings since December.

If the council failed to approve the bond sale, Ms. Reid said that Mayor Stoney would have to recognize the debt and include its repayment in the city’s 2018-19 budget plan he is to present to City Council next Tuesday, March 6.

“We don’t have $8.6 million of operating funds” to devote to covering the debt, Ms. Reid said Monday night, meaning a postponement would require the city’s budget staff to make unplanned spending adjustments.

While the city could have paid off the debt from savings to avoid $2.6 million in interest, Ms. Reid did not suggest that approach and no one on the council offered that idea.

“This is a rock and a hard place,” City Council President Chris A. Hilbert, 3rd District, said. “This is a distasteful decision. We’re going to have to make the best of our ugly options.”

Mr. Hilbert also noted that a provision of the City Charter would bar the council from removing or reducing the debt if it were included in the mayor’s proposed budget.

Council member Kristen N. Larson, 4th District, who initially wanted to delay a decision, ended up voting to approve the borrowing plan.