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Maryland’s Commanders offer: $400M for local needs, nothing for team

Incentive package builds out community rather than football facilities. ‘We have to take care of ourselves first before we take care of anybody else,’ one lawmaker says.

A rendering of the Commanders stadium proposal that Maryland and Prince George's County have put forth. (Obtained by the Washington Post)

Maryland will borrow as much as $400 million to revamp the area around the Washington Commanders’ FedEx Field stadium, under a deal that Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed into law Tuesday.

As the football team shops for a new stadium site and leaves public officials in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. competing to host the organization, Maryland developed a pitch that would benefit residents even if the team left and deprived the state of the multibillion dollar investment a stadium project would bring.

The plan would deeply invest in largely undeveloped acres around the decades-old stadium in Landover and deconstruct the privately owned FedEx Field at public expense.

Maryland pitched expansive development to keep Commanders — and stave off economic devastation if they leave

The remaining cash would build an amphitheater, a charter school and library, a public market, a civic plaza, and field houses for volleyball and basketball. That’s the type of development local leaders envisioned when FedEx was constructed in a dairy field in the late 1990s. But it never materialized, and local leaders say they do not want to repeat history.

“If the Commanders are able to stay, that’ll be a good look. But we have to make sure if they leave, we cannot have a stadium that sits there and rots,” said Del. Nick Charles (D-Prince George’s), chair of the county’s House delegation.

“If they see the value and the benefit of staying in a well-developed downtown area, great,” he added. “But we have to take care of ourselves first before we take care of anybody else.”

The focus on the community, rather than the team, comes as the Commanders present a complicated political calculus for Maryland officials. The team faces duel inquiries from the National Football League and the House Office of Congressional Oversight, the latter of which referred allegations of financial impropriety to the Federal Trade Commission.

The amenities are part of the mini-city pitch Prince George’s County officials designed for the team. But the $400 million is not enough to also cover the hotel, conference center, office space, team offices, training center and retail development included in the county’s bid to turn Landover into an urban entertainment destination around a new stadium, according to people familiar with the long-term development plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

The Prince George’s County government, not the team, would be able to access the money and finance the projects through the Maryland Stadium Authority, which has executed similar initiatives across the state for decades.

In contrast to the proposal Virginia lawmakers are developing, Maryland’s law expressly prohibits state construction of a pro-football stadium.

Instead, the money is designated for a “Blue Line Corridor,” the name of the county’s economic development plan to funnel resources to a five-mile stretch along the Metro line, from the D.C. boundary at Capitol Heights to Largo Town Center, east of FedEx Field.

The Commanders may relocate. Neighbors say good riddance.

County officials hope to make the residential and underdeveloped area feel like an urban extension of the city, and they were careful to make clear the money is not for the Commanders.

“We did not ask the stadium authority to engage on anything related to the Commanders,” Angie Rodgers, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer for economic development, told senators during a recent hearing. “This is all about sports entertainment cultural facilities in the stadium district, but not related to the Commanders.”

The team is obligated to play in Landover until 2027 and has been shopping for a new stadium option for years.

While the law itself allows the cash to be used for a broader set of purposes that could more closely dovetail with the mini-city vision, early conversations between the county and the stadium authority curtail how it would be used.

The stadium authority voted to adopt the more narrow vision proposed by Prince George’s officials last week, before the Maryland Senate began advancing the bill that made the $400 million in bonds available. The initial stadium authority vote is not binding, however, and the county could apply to use the cash for a broader set of uses in the future, including a convention center.

The team’s decision to stay or leave has no bearing on the program, but all projects require multiple levels of public approval. The debt would be repaid with money from the state’s lottery account, to the tune of $27 million per year.

The Democratic-controlled General Assembly unanimously approved the plan without discussion this past weekend, sending it to Hogan.

Hogan said last month that he would not get into a bidding war for the team and flatly refused to use public money to build a Commanders stadium. At the same time, his administration sought to spend $1.2 billion upgrading the state-owned stadiums for professional sports teams in Baltimore, namely Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which hosts the Orioles, and the Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium.

But Hogan has fully endorsed the Blue Line Corridor project, heralding it as a critical investment for the neighborhood.