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Richmond to front money for Redskins training camp

Richmond would provide up to $10M loan using money for jail, school projects

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Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III signs autographs for fans after practice at the team's NFL football training camp at Redskins Park in August.

Richmond will pull money from the construction budgets of the new city jail and schools to make a loan of up to $10 million to build a training camp for the Washington Redskins in time for the team to use it this summer, according to proposed legislation a City Council committee will review today.

The shift, however, will have no impact on the schools or jail projects, city officials say, and the money loaned to the city’s Economic Development Authority, which will be tasked with building and running the facility, will be fully repaid.

The shuffling of money to pay for the facility, part of a sponsorship deal between the city, Bon Secours Richmond Health System and the team announced last month, is one of two measures the City Council’s Finance and Economic Development Committee will review today as it begins examining the nuts and bolts of the agreement to bring the Redskins to town for three weeks in the summer. The move was part of an economic incentive package struck with the state in June.

The ordinance would shift $4 million from the construction of the $134 million jail, which is scheduled to open in 2014, and $5.6 million from the city’s nearly $170 million school construction project, which is wrapping up work on two elementary schools in South Side and plans replacements for Martin Luther King Jr. Middle and Huguenot High.

An additional appropriation, $400,000 that was included in the budget this year to renovate City Stadium, will also be diverted to the Redskins camp package.

Though the money has been budgeted, it won’t be needed this year in the school or jail projects, given the pace of the work, said Suzette Denslow, chief of staff for Mayor Dwight C. Jones.

“It is nothing that slows down any of these projects,” she said. “This is where we already knew the money would be freed up.”

Bon Secours has committed to pay $6.4 million in naming rights and rent for the site, which will double as a sports-medicine and men’s health facility run by the hospital system. The city expects to make back the rest of the loan through other sponsorships and the rental of a second-floor space at the training camp building.

Sponsorships are also expected to cover the $500,000 a year the city will be required to raise to pay the Redskins’ moving expenses every summer, Denslow said. The team is not contributing to the cost of the camp.

“Rental and other available revenue received by the EDA from the development will be returned to the city periodically to be applied toward reducing this debt and paying its associated debt service until all such debt and debt service costs are fully repaid,” city documents say.

Today, the committee will also consider another ordinance that authorizes Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall to execute the agreement between the Economic Development Authority, the team and Bon Secours that the council endorsed broadly Monday night.

The city bills the deal as a $40 million investment in three parts of Richmond that will create new jobs and taxable property, provide an infusion of health services, raise the city’s profile and bring thousands of visitors every summer to spend money at local hotels and restaurants.

The camp, which will be built on 17 acres behind the Science Museum of Virginia that will be leased from the state, is expected to cost about $9 million, though the loan will allow for up to $10 million in construction.

The Bon Secours Training Center will encompass two football fields, a drill field, a field house and medical office building, as well as a second-story space that will be built as a “dark shell” for a to-be-determined tenant, Denslow said. City officials have said the facility will be open to the public when the Redskins are not using it, though they have not provided details.

In exchange for its sponsorship money, Bon Secours is getting a 60-year lease, for $5,000 a year, on about 4 acres of the Westhampton School property at Libbie and Patterson avenues so it can build a $24 million, 75,000 square-foot expansion of St. Mary’s Hospital. Bon Secours has also committed to an $8.5 million, 25,000 square-foot expansion of Richmond Community Hospital in the East End.

Dozens of residents packed into Monday’s council meeting protesting the announcement of the plans for the school building, which dates to 1917, and asking that the Westhampton piece be taken out of the deal.

G. Manoli Loupassi, a former City Council president who now represents parts of Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield in the House of Delegates, argues the deal circumvents a decision made by the council in 2008 to ensure money from the sale of former school properties made its way back to the school system.

“I want the Redskins here; I think it would be great,” he said. “But the question is at what cost?”

1st District Councilman Bruce W. Tyler, who sits on the Finance Committee, questions the economics of the deal and says it could put the city perilously close to its debt limit. According to state law, the city cannot pay more than 10 percent of its budget in debt service, Tyler said. Projections show that by the fiscal year that ends in June 2015, debt service will be nearly 9.6 percent of the budget.

“What we’re doing is we’re taking money that we had obligated for other projects and saying ‘Those projects are fine. … We’re not going to need this money,’ ” Tyler said. “But I can’t get a library in the West End. I can’t get a gymnasium for Mary Munford Elementary. … Quite frankly, there’s not a whole lot of room in this debt ceiling limit.”

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