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City Council calls for Washington team to pay its way or end relationship

Jeremy Lazarus | 3/30/2018, 11:14 a.m.
Will Washington’s pro football team continue to run a summer training camp in Richmond after 2020? That question is expected ...

Will Washington’s pro football team continue to run a summer training camp in Richmond after 2020?

That question is expected to be decided after Mayor Levar M. Stoney and team representatives hold talks, likely in May, on a potential extension of the current agreement.

That agreement is set to end in two years.

Richmond City Council already is weighing in, though it will not have a part in the decision, which officially will be made by Richmond’s Economic Development Administration. The EDA owns the Leigh Street training camp, which includes the building that houses medical offices of Bon Secours Health System.  

The EDA, though nominally independent, is basically part of the city’s Department of Economic Development, and the EDA’s board would follow the mayor’s lead.

By a 9-0 vote Monday night, City Council approved a resolution calling for an end to the relationship with the Washington NFL team unless the new agreement requires the team to pick up “all debt service and operating costs associated with the training camp” located near the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Councilman Parker C. Agelasto, 5th District, spearheaded the resolution that was co-patroned by the other eight members of council. Mr. Agelasto said the training camp has become a “white elephant” that has failed to generate enough money to cover its full costs.

Evidence of that came last month when the council agreed to allow the city to refinance the building and practice field to pay off the remaining $8.5 million debt over 15 years to avoid default on a bank loan.

City officials acknowledged that the EDA would not be able to cover that debt from rents and other income from the property. The projected yearly cost to taxpayers from the refinancing: $750,000.

While there was no mention of it, the resolution also is seen as calling for the elimination of the current obligation of the EDA — actually the city — to pay the football team $500,000 a year either in cash or in-kind city services to hold the training camp in Richmond. That payment is one of the most unpopular elements of the current agreement and one that the council never approved after voting to authorize the training camp in 2012.

The team required the payment before it would sign the February 2013 agreement with the EDA to hold summer practice in Richmond for eight seasons. The EDA, which largely relies on city funds, has paid the team about $2.1 million over the past five seasons from earnings from the building and from city supplied-services.

“This sends a message to Mayor Stoney and the EDA to cut ties with the team  unless we can get better terms,” Mr. Agelasto said.

He believes the team also is losing interest in Richmond.

“Why keep a marriage together when both parties are unhappy?”

In other business Monday, City Council:

• Approved 9-0 ending requirements for businesses to provide off-street parking on a stretch of Hull Street between Cowardin Avenue and East 9th Street. The move is aimed at supporting developers who are seeking to overhaul buildings and attract new business tenants to this stretch of South Side. However, the council postponed action on a proposal allowing reductions in off-street parking requirements in other business districts.