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Chamber urges supervisors to reject stadium referendum

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An aerial view of the proposed location for a new stadium for the Potomac Nationals Minor League baseball team.

The Prince William Chamber of Commerce is weighing in on whether the county should ask voters to approve a plan to build a new county-backed stadium for the Potomac Nationals baseball team.

In short, they don’t like it.

In a letter released by the 1,200-member regional chamber Friday, the group’s board of directors advised against placing the stadium deal on a referendum on the November ballot because doing so would inject unpredictability and political volatility into the stadium’s approval process.

And that’s generally not good for business.

Instead, the chamber’s leaders want the supervisors to stick to what the chamber understood was the original plan, which was to leave the stadium decision to the county board – not county voters.

“We want the board to make a business decision. We don’t want it to be a political decision,” said Brendon Shaw, director of government relations for the chamber.

Shaw said the chamber’s board of directors held meetings to learn the details of the proposed $35 million stadium deal and heard input from supervisors as well as representatives from the P-Nats baseball team and JBG Companies, which owns Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center in Woodbridge.

The stadium has been proposed for a vacant, 7-acre lot between Wegmans grocery store and Opitz Boulevard. As currently written, the stadium would be financed with county-backed Industrial Development Authority bonds and owned by Prince William County.

The PNats have pledged to pay the full debt service on the bonds as well as the ground rent for the site at an annual cost of about $2.7 million. The team has also pledged to pay all operations and maintenance costs for the new stadium and an adjacent parking garage. The garage would double as commuter parking on weekdays and has tentatively been slated to be funded by a state transportation grant. The Commonwealth Transportation Board is scheduled to make a final decision on funding the garage later this month.

The supervisors plan to vote June 20 on whether to place the deal on a referendum for the November election.

In a May 23 vote, the chamber’s board of directors voted overwhelmingly to oppose the referendum because of the unpredictability factor. The board’s letter, addressed to Board Chairman Corey Stewart, R-At Large, notes that the chamber “has serious concerns about the future negative economic development implications created through a volatile and unpredictable negotiating process.”

The supervisors “should not renege on its prior commitments, especially not with regards to finale decision-making processes, or it will jeopardize attracting and maintaining private sector investment in our community,” the letter states.

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