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Eager to compete, Maryland developing multimillion-dollar deal for Washington Commanders

Pitted against Virginia’s $1 billion proposal, Maryland vying to retain stadium in Landover with hundreds of millions in incentives

A large crowd of fans showed up on a cold damp night to take part in a party to celebrate the new brand and identity of the Washington Commanders. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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Maryland power brokers are quietly marshaling hundreds of millions of dollars to entice the Washington Commanders to keep their stadium in Landover, three people familiar with the process said.

The proposal would borrow a huge sum to publicly finance development around the FedEx Field site, where the football team and owner Daniel Snyder already owns more than 200 acres in addition to the stadium itself.

The Washington Commanders seek more than a new stadium, pitching to officials in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. for years a vision to build a multibillion-dollar sports-entertainment destination that would accommodate homes, commercial businesses, retail, possibly sports-betting and more. This month’s rebranding of the team renewed public interest in where the football team and its outsize economic footprint may land.

Maryland’s proposal would help build out the team’s vision of a sports-entertainment destination, but not construct the stadium itself. The state would invest in the neighborhood, building transit, roads, bike lanes and other potentially costly amenities surrounding a new stadium built by the team, said the people familiar with the deal, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a proposal that is not public.

“We aren’t building anyone a stadium,” said Del. Jazz Lewis (D-Prince George’s), who represents the neighborhoods around FedEx Field. “But we can build in and around the neighborhood.”

Several lawmakers said Maryland plans to compete with the District and Virginia, where bipartisan legislation advanced last week that would offer the team $1 billion and a cut of sales tax revenue if it moved there.

Virginia legislature has bipartisan support to build stadium complex for Washington Commanders

While Virginia appears to have an early lead in developing an even bigger proposal, Maryland officials say Snyder’s existing land holdings, the stadium’s access to existing transit, the team’s long-standing relationships and a companion local-government incentive makes their deal competitive.

“The Virginia legislation appears to be designed to signal their interest,” said Del. Ben Barnes (D-Prince George’s), who chairs the capital budget subcommittee that would usher the Maryland proposal to passage. The team, he said, is “well aware of our interest and commitment to keeping them in Maryland.”

The team has not offered a timeline in making a decision, but it has been courting public officials in both states for months. The team’s Feb. 2 rebranding renewed the push to lure them.

Lewis said the Prince George’s community wants to avoid the economic desert left behind if the team picked up and moved, pointing to the decades of deterioration around the team’s former home at RFK Stadium in D.C. The team left for what’s now FedEx Field in 1997.

“We don’t want another RFK situation,” he said.

While stadium rusts away, newly opened Fields at RFK offers a glimpse into site’s future

The Maryland package would complement incentives offered by Prince George’s County government, whose leaders declined to comment on the scope of their proposal. However, the county is also planning its own, large sports-entertainment district in Landover, including an $11 million amphitheater, irrespective of the Commanders’ stadium plans.

The Maryland Stadium Authority would sell the hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds needed to finance the state portion of the deal. The agency has financed and built infrastructure for massive construction projects in the state since 1986.

The staff of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is involved in building an incentive package. His administration already proposed spending $1.2 billion through the stadium authority this year to upgrade facilities and keep the Orioles in Camden Yards and the Ravens in M&T Bank Stadium for years to come.

The retrofitting of the baseball and football stadiums in Baltimore accompanies the state’s larger economic development strategy of leveraging this year’s unexpected budget windfall into revenue-generating projects.

A separate, $200 million initiative, backed by the administration, would issue bonds to help county governments build sports entertainment facilities, such as the one pitched by Prince George’s County. Additionally, the state has already set aside one of its 30 retail sports betting licenses for the Commanders, if the team chooses to build a sportsbook near its stadium. It’s also can seek one of 60 mobile betting licenses when that process gets underway.

“The state continues to work with the county on a competitive proposal that is responsible to taxpayers,” Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci said, declining to elaborate.

The team declined to comment on its stadium search. Team leaders have been publicly circumspect about what is needed in a deal or how it would weigh the competing proposals.

“All those jurisdictions are amazing leaders and partners to us,” team President Jason Wright said earlier this month during a public interview with the Economic Club of Washington. “Like I said, our biggest thing is we can listen to everybody about what their goals are and try to figure out where we fit. That’s our only goal.”

The Commanders’s deal with Prince George’s obligates them to play at FedEx Field through 2027, but the team has sought to replace the outdated facility for years.

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) heartily endorsed returning the team to the District this month, now that the newly rebranded Commanders has a name not widely viewed as racist.

She has said the city would seek a deal similar to the construction of Audi Field, home to the D.C. United soccer franchise — a 50-50 split with the team on costs for land acquisition, infrastructure and stadium construction.

However, the city needs congressional approval for wide redevelopment of the RFK site, and city leaders have offered mixed views on courting the team.

The team is currently subject to an inquiry from Congress over allegations of a hostile workplace culture. The NFL announced earlier this month it will launch an investigation of sexual misconduct allegations against Snyder. That follows the league’s $10 million fine year last year for fostering a culture in which sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation were commonplace.

Snyder’s complicated relationship with public officials has also influenced their willingness to shell out public money for the team.

Lewis said local leaders have seen a concerted effort to build better relationships with the community under Wright, who took over in August 2020, including offering free tickets to people living near the stadium and targeted philanthropy that, for example, bought jerseys and equipment for a local high school football team. The work to be a better community partner makes a deal an easier sell to colleagues, Lewis said.

“People don’t like Daniel Snyder,” Lewis said. “There’s a history of that, and us having to remind people: The current president is Jason Wright.”

While the Virginia legislature must adjourn in mid-March, the Maryland General Assembly remains in session until mid-April, giving lawmakers more time to craft and pass a proposal to present to Hogan for a signature.