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Va. Senate leader moves to close potential loopholes in Commanders stadium bill

State Sen. Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax). (Steve Helber/AP)

RICHMOND — State Sen. Richard L. Saslaw is proposing changes to his bill to lure the Washington Commanders to Virginia, addressing two potential loopholes that could have allowed for bottomless taxpayer investment in a sprawling “mini-city” around a new stadium.

Saslaw (D-Fairfax) suggested the new language after The Washington Post reported over the weekend on the legislature’s two bills to create a stadium authority to oversee financing and construction of a National Football League complex for the Commanders.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) and wide majorities in the House and Senate have embraced the idea behind Saslaw’s bill and a House version brought by Del. Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach) — that the state would give up a share of tax revenue from the stadium and a surrounding “mini-city” to finance bonds for the stadium.

Virginia’s bills to lure Commanders could offer unlimited tax dollars for ‘mini-city’

But the House and Senate bills define the “facility” eligible for the bonds so broadly that they possibly could be used to finance not just the stadium but also the vast commercial-entertainment-residential development that Commanders owner Daniel Snyder would plan to develop alongside it.

If no changes were made, the Senate version also would allow the stadium authority to issue new bonds in perpetuity — and collect the tax revenue to pay them down — to finance new construction, expansion, repairs and maintenance. The House version would limit the bonds to 20 years.

Saslaw, who sponsored the Senate bill, said he never wanted the bonds to be used for the broader development, which he describes as a “mini-city.” He said he would submit the new language to House and Senate negotiators who are trying to iron out differences between the two bills before the General Assembly session is scheduled to adjourn Saturday. Saslaw is one of the conferees, as is Knight.

“It was never our intention that the bonds would be used for anything other than the stadium,” said Saslaw, the state Senate’s majority leader. “This makes clear what we intended.”

New stadium for Commanders is a political football for local leaders

Both bills define “facility” to include things typically associated with a sports venue: the stadium itself, practice fields, team offices, concessions and parking garages. But they also include restaurants and retail without specifying that they be located in the stadium. The definition also covers “lodging,” office space for tenants other than the team and “other properties on a site specified by the team and consented to by the Authority and the county/city [where the facility is located].”

Most of that language had been carried over from state code that created a baseball authority in the hopes of attracting a major league team to Virginia. It was adopted in 1995, when professional sports teams typically built their stadiums in the middle of parking lots.

Commanders eye three possible sites in Virginia for new stadium, entertainment complex

Saslaw’s new language would specify that the financeable restaurants, retail and concessions be “inside the stadium” and “essential to the operation of the stadium.” It also would remove references to “lodging” and non-team offices.

Neither bill caps the amount of money that can be raised, however, and Saslaw’s proposal would not change that. But it would impose a time limit on the bonding authority, which the Senate version lacks.

Both bills allow the stadium authority to issue bonds “at any time and from time to time,” but the House version says that right ends once the bonds are paid off or 20 years after the team plays its first regular season game in the stadium — whichever comes first.

The Senate version sets a limit of 30 years but from the date of issuance, so the clock would continually be reset with each new issuance. Saslaw’s new language would tie the 30-year deadline to the stadium’s operational date.

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

The Commanders are contractually obligated to play at FedEx Field, in Landover, Md., until 2027, after which they could stay or seek another home. The team has been shopping for a new home for years in Virginia, Maryland and D.C. Maryland and D.C. have stepped up their efforts in recent weeks as the proposal in Virginia has advanced.