Weeks after Virginia doled out almost $2 billion in incentives to tech giant Amazon in the high-profile bidding process to secure one-half of their second headquarters dubbed “HQ2,” another state business project is already being considered, but this time with no attractive offers, per one Republican lawmaker. As the Washington Redskins look to relocate back into the Commonwealth they left in 1997, team owner Dan Snyder will have to contend with an anti-bidding war in the tri-state area as Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. propose entering into an agreement to refuse to offer certain incentives to the area’s NFL team.
House Bill 1886, introduced into the 2019 session by Delegate Michael Webert (R-Fauquier), would prohibit Virginia from offering the football team tax incentives, state or local appropriations, or loans to build a stadium in the state. Named the “Interstate Compact on Washington Area Professional Football Team Franchise Facility Incentives,” the measure would establish an “interstate compact” among the three “party states,” Virginia, Maryland, and D.C.
For the agreement to take effect, all three must agree to the same terms to swear off economic incentives for the professional football team. For many, taxpayer-funded stadiums have not seemed worth their weight on a return on investment in the past.
The Washington Times reports on how the Cincinnati Bengals, whose new stadium was plagued with cost overruns, needed $287 million in construction funding, which was provided by a local sales tax increase to utilize municipal bonds. Although the team rakes in cash from revenue streams like advertising, tickets, luxury suites, concessions, and most of the parking, Paul Brown Stadium is now estimated to cost Hamilton County, Ohio, taxpayers more than $1.1 billion by 2026.
“I don’t want Joe Sixpack paying for a stadium,” Webert said in a report from The Washington Post, explaining that state money can better serve elsewhere. “Think tanks on the left and right show the subsidies that go to professional stadiums, there really is not the return on investment that everybody says there is.”
Webert’s interstate compact, however, does not specifically name the Redskins. which ended the season 3rd in the NFC East with a 7-9 record. The bill only refers to a “Washington area professional football team.”
The Redskins have a contract with FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland through 2027, with plans to build a billion-dollar stadium and facilities somewhere in the tri-state area. One proposal places the team back where it played at RFK Stadium for over 35 years, where it brought home three Super Bowl titles in 1983, 1988, and 1992.
Opposed to Webert’s non-bidding bill is State Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City), who has been involved in efforts to bring the team to Virginia, explaining that the Commonwealth may work to offer to build infrastructure to serve the stadium, rather than tax breaks.
He said, The team’s going to have to build their own stadium.”
Nevertheless, it unclear whether infrastructure-based incentives would run violate Webert’s legislation.
“Obviously something that’s very important for a Redskins fan is transportation,” Governor Ralph Northam (D) remarked at the Redskins’ training camp in Richmond during this year’s pre-season. “As any stadium-goer knows, the worst part about a Redskins home game is the commute home that can last hours even if one leaves the game in the 4th quarter.”
One option would be for Virginia to trade additions to interstates 95, 395, and 495 or Metro system upgrades as a way of getting a stadium in Virginia.
Going forward, people may learn from the Redskins’ training camp deal struck between the team and Virginia’s capital city, Richmond. In 2013, the City of Richmond took out a five-year, $10 million loan under then-mayor Dwight Jones (D) to construct the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in an attempt to broaden the city’s financial portfolio. Last February, just five years into the deal, however, the city still owed $8.6 million.
After the highly controversial meals tax hike from Mayor Levar Stoney (D), the Richmond City Council voted to refinance the agreement for a fifteen-year term, ensuring taxpayers will be on the hook for $750,000, annually.
As Webert’s bill is discussed during the 45-day session in Richmond, the state’s entire economic development process and the authorities thereof could come under (possibly well-deserved) scrutiny.