A view of the Washington Commanders home in Landover, Maryland at FedExField on Nov. 6, 2022. (Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images)
The potential sale of the Washington Commanders is reviving interest among Virginia lawmakers in pitching the franchise on relocating its stadium and commercial complex to the commonwealth.
Last year, the Virginia General Assembly abandoned legislation that offered the Commanders incentives ranging from $300 million to $1 billion amid growing concerns over the use of potential tax revenue to build a stadium and complex that would be owned by billionaire investor and owner Dan Snyder and investigations into the team’s workplace environment.
Del. Luke Torian, D-Prince William, who represents one of the districts where a stadium site was proposed, said given sale talks, lawmakers should reconsider legislation.
“With a new ownership team coming in, I think we all should go back to the drawing board,” said Torian.
In 2022, leaked reports of the proposed plans showed Prince William and Loudoun counties were in the running for the new stadium, with three possible sites identified. Those included locations in Woodbridge, Dumfries and Sterling, which is a few miles from where the Commanders’ headquarters is currently located in Ashburn.
The Commanders’ stadium lease in Landover, Maryland, ends in 2027.
In Virginia, legislation to entice the team to the commonwealth gained bipartisan support in 2022 before going down in flames. Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has also said he would like the Commanders to relocate to Virginia rather than move to the District of Columbia or remain in Maryland.
“We are the best state to live, work, raise a family and have a professional sports team,” he said last September.
In the governor’s list of budget amendments put forward in December, Youngkin proposed appropriating $500,000 to “evaluate potential economic development incentives related to the relocation of the Washington Commanders” to Virginia.
Lawmakers have not set a timetable to vote on the budget amendments. In the meantime, the NFL is still reviewing the agreement between Snyder and new team owners.
Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, who represents an area that includes one of the proposed stadium sites, said while he was pleased to learn about new ownership, he is uncertain whether it changes his interest in legislation that would incentive the team’s relocation.
The proposed site in Woodbridge is adjacent to Interstate 95, which has recurring traffic congestion issues, he noted.
“The key thing for Prince William is traffic and transportation, and last year when the discussions were being had, I asked the Commanders, ‘Have you gone out and talked to commuters?’ and the answer was no,” he said.
“You can’t solve this without solving the number one bottleneck, not only [in] the East Coast, but the country,” McPike said.
Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, who currently represents a portion of an area containing a potential stadium site, said Youngkin’s idea to conduct a study of potential economic development incentives involved with relocating the team isn’t bad.
“I think having the ownership situation solved definitely removes one obstacle to having a conversation about possibilities,” Surovell said.
With the potential sale of the team, he said he suspects leaders in the District of Columbia and Maryland might be more engaged with the stadium conversations and Virginia should consider being involved.
“Virginia should try and compete,” Surovell said. “If there’s a way to accomplish it, if it’s a good deal for taxpayers and doesn’t completely destroy traffic, I think we should really try and figure out if there’s a solution in there somewhere.”
Lawmakers are already touting the advantages of their particular regions as a new home for the Commanders. Del. David Reid, D-Loudoun, said Loudoun County has the “most robust” transportation infrastructure for the team, including the extension of the Metrorail Silver Line to Dulles International Airport, which lies near the team’s headquarters in Ashburn.
The last General Assembly was generally in favor of the legislation. However, interest could change since all 140 seats are up for election and many lawmakers have indicated their intentions to seek higher offices or resign.
In 2022, the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate floated two different plans for legislation incentivizing the Commanders’ relocation. Both would have set up a new stadium authority, which would have been appointed by the governor and charged with financing the stadium’s construction, to issue bonds to finance the facility. The House version would have capped the bonds at 20 years compared to the Senate version, where they could have been at least 30 years.
While the proposed legislation would not have used existing state income, sales or revenue tax to build the stadium, it would have allowed the team to use new tax revenue generated within the stadium’s district to cover construction costs.
The Virginia Department of Planning and Budget found the bills had an “unknown, but potentially significant negative impact to state revenues” because the stadium authority would have been entitled to all sales and use tax revenue generated in the stadium’s commercial district.
Other costs were possible: Surovell noted any transportation improvements needed around the I-95 corridor to support the new stadium could potentially draw on taxpayer dollars.
He also said relocating the stadium could provide an opportunity to extend the Metro to Potomac Mills.
“I think what we all should understand is that if there’s a potential possibility for a new stadium — either Prince William County or Loudoun County; those are the two sites in the commonwealth of Virginia — infrastructure is going to play a major part of it,” Torian said.
Michael Van Meter, who is running unopposed for the Republican nomination for the 33rd Senate District seat in Prince William, representing one of the proposed stadium sites, said taxpayers should not be funding the stadium.
“I think that if the Commanders came in and they want tax breaks, it’s something that we could discuss initially, but I don’t think that we should be in a situation where they get deep tax incentives in perpetuity,” said Van Meter, who will face either Hala Ayala or Jennifer Carroll Foy, both former Democratic delegates, this fall.
Democratic Del. David Reid, who represents the portion of Loudoun County that encompasses one proposed stadium site, said provisions in the 2022 House legislation requiring the team to meet specific performance metrics to receive incentives from the state were one “way that minimizes the financial risk to the state and taxpayers.”
He also said one reason lawmakers abandoned legislation in 2022 is that the conversation shifted from an “economic development opportunity” discussion to a “referendum on ownership.”
“That was just untenable. We were not going to be able to get beyond the referendum on the ownership and all of the issues surrounding the owner,” Reid said. “Once there’s an ownership change, then that means we should be able to go back and have an objective discussion about this being a good economic development opportunity for the commonwealth.”
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