Thousands of football fans are expected to bear temperatures in the 90s Thursday to pass through the gates at the Redskins training center in Richmond. Three years ago the city paid $10 million to build the center, anticipating an economic boost. That was on top of $4 million provided to the team by the state.
As the team’s season kicks off here, it’s unclear what exactly Richmond and Virginia are reaping.
There’s no question the center, two miles from the State Capitol, has attracted reams of fans. Spending the first year brought an estimated impact of $10.5 million to the area, including $2.3 million spent by the team — not to mention money the players spend in town playing golf and getting their hair cut.
An average 10,348 people attended each day that year, according to the team, a number that hit 10,986 last year.
But the deals inked to draw the crowds have come under new scrutiny this year. Key members of the Virginia General Assembly are asking whether the team is fulfilling its contractual obligations, including employment of at least 72 people in Richmond and at team headquarters in Ashburn at an average salary of $69,444. The team is also required to maintain an annual payroll for players of $167 million.
And state officials acknowledge they have not provided adequate oversight. Meanwhile Richmond has footed the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding shortfalls for the practice facility.
The city and the state bet heavily on the practice facility and the team. To front its money, the city shifted money from budgets for schools and a new jail. The Richmond Economic Development Authority, the quasi-public entity that arranged the funding, also committed to pay the team $500,000 annually over the eight-year deal, money that paid the team’s moving costs and persuaded it to move practices there.
The authority announced plans to meet that obligation using revenue generated from selling sponsorships and leasing the space when the Redskins aren’t using it. That so far hasn’t panned out.
Despite the crowds who arrive in the heat to see players when they are in town, the amount the authority took in fell short of projections by more than $250,000 the first year and nearly that much the second. In February the authority agreed to pay $285,000 to cover the shortfall.
The money the state put in to attract the Redskins was cobbled together by former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) after his initial subsidy proposal for the team was rejected by the General Assembly. Legislators had questioned whether the money was needed to keep the team in the state. “Virginia’s a good deal for them without any additional incentives,” Del. R. Steven Landes (R-Augusta) said at the time.
In the handoff to the current governor, Terry McAuliffe (D), oversight seems to have fallen through the cracks.
On July 7, two state senators wrote to Maurice Jones, secretary of commerce under McAuliffe, expressing concern about the lack of oversight of the contractual obligations of Pro-Football Inc., the Redskins’ legal entity that received the $4 million grant.
Of particular concern, the senators wrote, was a drop in the number of practices the team has held there, which could mean fewer jobs, less spending and a more narrow window during which businesses can benefit from the crowds.
In the letter, reported earlier by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, state Sens. Walter A. Stosch and John C. Watkins, both Republicans, asked that the state more closely track the team’s obligations for both the practice facility and its headquarters in Ashburn.
“Given the reduction in the number of daily training sessions hosted at the facility in Richmond since 2013, it is imperative that close attention be given to ensuring that the Pro-Football Inc. maintains minimum employment levels at both the headquarters and the training facility,” they wrote.
The senators added that if the team fails to maintain employment levels, the grant could be subject to “clawback,” or the return, of the funds to the state.
Redskins officials say the team is in compliance with every requirement, including hiring benchmarks.
In an interview, Watkins said “nobody that I can find is actively pursuing making sure that [the grant money] is being kept track of.”
“Somebody needs to monitor it,” he said. “Somebody needs to find out and get the data to make sure that they are sticking to their end of the bargain.”
A spokeswoman for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership acknowledged that the state had not yet begun tracking the grant or monitoring the team’s performance. Most economic development subsidies are negotiated through the VEDP, but the grant for the Redskins, approved by Gov. McDonnell, was pulled from other parts of the budget as he worked around the General Assembly.
The money ultimately was not separately approved by the General Assembly or considered part of the commonwealth’s economic development portfolio.
“The Redskins practice facility was not a VEDP project,” said Suzanne Clark, the agency spokeswoman. “Going forward, VEDP has been tasked with tracking performance. We will be learning a lot more about the project in the coming weeks.”
If Richmond’s development authority hasn’t seen a boost, the local economy has.
According to a study by the Center for Sport Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University on the 2013 practice season, 54,000 people attended practice sessions that year, including more than 25,000 adults from out of town who spent an average of $357 while in the area, on an estimated 2,242 nights in hotel rooms, plus dining, shopping and other entertainment.
The team cites a bevy of other benefits to Richmond, too. Last year more than 10,000 area students attended events held by the team’s charitable foundation, the team said, and the city received media coverage — largely because of joint practices with the New England Patriots — it said was worth millions of dollars.
This year the team is practicing with the Houston Texans, subject of an HBO reality series, “Hard Knocks,” even though team officials have said attracting opponents to Richmond has not been easy.
The senators’ complaints with the team stem from a drop in the number of practice days, from 17 in 2013 to 15 last year and 13 this year. Maury Lane, a consultant for the team, attributed the drop to league scheduling and said the team is meeting all of its obligations to both the state and city.
“This is simply a quirk of the schedule this year due to having our first preseason game as an away game and our second preseason game on Thursday,” Lane said. “As a result, there are two fewer open practice days.” He said the team would still have five weekend practice dates, including practices with the Texans.
Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones remains pleased with the training camp deal, spokeswoman Tammy D. Hawley said. She said that the training camp funds were approved as part of a broader economic package that could bring $40 million of investment to the city, partly through a planned expansion of Richmond Community Hospital.
The hospital is operated by Bon Secours, which agreed to pay $6.4 million to sponsor the training facility — named the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center — after the city agreed to provide the company with a 60-year lease for a city-owned school as a future site for its nursing program.
“The $500,000 local contribution was part of the agreement to offset some of the Redskin’s expenses for moving training camp to the city of Richmond,” Hawley said in an e-mail. “Sponsorships and revenue generating opportunities to cover that annual contribution are growing and have grown each year. But even with the local contribution obligation, the economic impact and exposure for the city of Richmond has made it a successful investment with significant return.”
Watkins, who represents the area of Richmond where the facility is located, said surrounding businesses had seen a bump in business from fans but that the team ought to be held to the same standards as other employers that receive public money on the promise of job growth or increased tax revenue.
He said debate over the deals could also bleed into discussions between the team and the state about the possibility of a new stadium in the commonwealth. McAuliffe has proposed a number of sites, but D.C. officials including Mayor Muriel E. Bowser are still trying to find a way to build a new stadium at the site of RFK stadium.
Scrutiny of the deals is likely to extend into the NFL’s regular season, as the Senate finance committee plans to discuss oversight at a Sept. 17 meeting, four days after the Redskins kick-off their season at FedEx Field.
“I think any professional team has got to meet some of the same standards, if you would,” Watkins said. “This is taxpayer dollars. This is money being used as a place for millionaire ballplayers to display their wares, and I’m apprehensive about that.”
Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz