The Washington Redskins, who have explored moving their training facilities to the District and Prince George’s County, announced Wednesday that they would instead overhaul their current home in Ashburn but move their month-long summer training camp to Richmond, beginning in 2013.
The eight-year deal will keep the team at Redskins Park, where it has been located since 1992 and held training camp since 2003, but will mean a considerably longer trip for many D.C. area fans who want to see the team practice each summer.
The $30 million upgrade and expansion of everything from the team’s weight room to its cafeteria will be accomplished with more than $6 million in government money. Virginia will spend $4 million over the next two years, Loudoun County will provide $2 million over the next four years and Richmond has agreed to pay as much as $400,000 to help refurbish the Redskins’ facility, where its corporate headquarters will remain.
Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) said Wednesday that the state has been working for about a year to negotiate a deal.
“This is yet another major corporation that has decided to stay in Virginia or grow in Virginia or move to Virginia,’’ McDonnell said at a news conference outside the governor’s mansion. “We are the most business friendly state in America and that’s why even though other jurisdictions offered significant revenue to get them to move, the management and ownership of the Redskins understood there’s no better place to call home . . . than the Commonwealth of Virginia.’’
The announcement came on the same day that Exxon Mobil announced it would close its Fairfax County campus and move operations that employ 2,100 people there to Houston.
Redskins officials, including Coach Mike Shanahan, have long expressed a desire to move the annual training camp, which begins in late July and runs for about a month, away from the team’s regular season training facility. The Redskins held training camp at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., from 1963-94 and in 2001 and 2002. They held training camp at Frostburg State University from 1995-99.
Team executives also consider Redskins Park, opened in 1992, badly in need of a top-to- bottom facelift if the facility is to rival those of other NFL franchises. This offseason, the team opened an indoor practice bubble and Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen indicated last month that would be only the first of a series of upgrades as the Redskins’ brass works to modernize the facility.
Allen said Wednesday afternoon on radio station WTEM (980 AM) that the improvements will include a new weight room, a new training room, a new cafeteria and better technology.
The team has held talks with D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) about finding a facility in the District and had spoken with Prince George’s County representatives about a site in Bowie.
Allen released a statement Wednesday morning saying that “we are very pleased to continue our relationship with the Commonwealth of Virginia that my father established 41 years ago.”
D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), the council’s leading proponent of bringing the Redskins back to the city, said a team representative contacted him Wednesday about the decision. “I’m glad that the mayor and myself and Michael Brown made an effort,” he said.
David S. Iannucci, who has spearheaded Prince George’s negotiations with the Redskins, said the county and the Maryland Stadium Authority spent $25,000 on a study that concluded that a site near the Bowie MARC station was feasible as a practice facility site for the Redskins.
State Sen. Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun) said he was disappointed to learn that the team would move its offseason training out of Loudoun County.
“The information that I have so far does not sound like good news for Loudoun County,” said Black, who learned the news from an aide Wednesday. “I think we all just sort of got word without any advance warning, and I don’t think that was a very wise way to approach this. My guess is perhaps there was a feeling if they let the delegation know about it, they’d probably get some pushback.”
Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, who has played for the Redskins since 2006 and spent every training camp at Redskins Park, said he has mixed feelings about the decision.
“The coach wants to remove all distractions, help you come together as a team, build better chemistry, help you hang out with guys you might not normally hang out with,” Alexander said. “But I don’t know how much of that actually goes into success on the field.” A father of three, Alexander enjoyed having training camp 10 minutes from his Northern Virginia home.
But running back Tim Hightower, who played his college ball at Richmond, praised the move. “Richmond is a great place,” he said. “There is a huge Redskin following there so I know it will be great for the city of Richmond, but also special for me because that is the place where it began for me.”
Hightower said training camp location doesn’t affect team chemistry.
“That’s up to the players. It has to be important to the veterans on the team to be close,” he said.
Richmond is considering a number of locations for the Redskins’ summer practice site and will form a task force to find one. Cleo Battle, vice president of sales and service for the Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the area should benefit greatly from the influx of fans who come to see the Redskins train.
“We’ve seen our sports tourism grow significantly in the market in the last couple years, and this is an added feather in our cap,” he said.
On some days, thousands of fans come to Ashburn to see the team practice and a team spokesman said Fan Appreciation Day has drawn 20,000 people.
“I think it will be a blast,” said Merrill Cann, a 31-year-old financial adviser and Redskins fan who was enjoying lunch Wednesday in downtown Richmond.
“No question,” his father, Brad Cann, piped in. “There’s nothing going on here other than the Flying Squirrels,” he added, referring to the Class AA baseball team.
Brad Cann, 60, an attorney who has attended many Redskins games with his son, paused a moment and thought better of that comment.
“The Flying Squirrels and the Redskins don’t belong in the same sentence,” he said.
Staff writers Mike DeBonis, Mike Jones, Mark Maske and Miranda Spivack contributed to this report.