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Richmond demands Redskins pay up to keep training camp deal

Fan turnout has declined at Redskins training camp in recent years, and Richmond said the promised financial windfall has not arrived. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

When the Washington Redskins open training camp for a sixth consecutive summer in Richmond, they can expect to be met by waning fan enthusiasm and eroding support from city officials, who believe the 2012 deal to host the three-week workouts has proved more bust than boon.

And unless the Redskins make significant financial concessions, it appears the team won’t be invited back when the eight-year deal expires in 2020. The deadline for deciding whether to extend the agreement comes in July.

In March, the Richmond City Council made its views clear, with eight of nine members supporting a resolution stating they would favor extending the contract only if the Redskins agreed to cover the considerable remaining costs of the $11 million facility the city built for the team.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney (D), who wasn’t in office when his predecessor brokered the training-camp deal with Redskins team president Bruce Allen, is on record as saying he never would have approved it. Jim Nolan, the mayor’s press secretary, outlined Stoney’s position.

“The mayor does not favor an extension of the contract under its existing terms,” Nolan wrote in an email last week. “He believes that any future agreement with the team should not include a contribution from the city.”

The Richmond Times-Dispatch, which each year has documented the costs of hosting training camp, urged the city to “cut its losses” in a sharply worded editorial in February after its reporters found that the city dipped into its school construction budget to cover more than $5 million of training-camp costs.

“Not a single soul in Richmond seems to be pleased with the Redskins training-camp deal these days,” the editorial said. It went on to enumerate the $500,000 the city agreed to pay the Redskins each year to hold practices in the city, as well as the city’s $750,000 annual expense in retiring debt on the practice facility it built in 2013. “The city should not compound its error by trying to redeem the investment with yet more outlays — in effect, throwing good money after bad.”

According to Nolan, the Redskins have indicated they will discuss the deal with Richmond officials after the April 26-28 NFL draft. “Any continued relationship between the city of Richmond and the Redskins beyond the term of the existing agreement will depend on the outcome of these discussions,” Nolan wrote.

Allen declined to comment on the Redskins’ willingness to revisit the contract’s terms — or even confirm plans to discuss it. Through a team spokesman over the weekend, he said, “We are focusing on the draft.”

According to a person with knowledge of the Redskins’ thinking who declined to speak for attribution because of the issue’s sensitivity, the team has no plans to exit the deal before its conclusion and is taking no steps to find an alternate site.

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Publicly, the Redskins maintain that the deal benefits Richmond, compiling figures that show a positive revenue stream once taxes and charitable contributions are factored in.

While the Redskins no longer release attendance figures for the three-week camp, crowds have been noticeably smaller and less enthusiastic in recent years compared with the first two, when the Redskins were coming off their 2012 NFC East title and quarterback Robert Griffin III was on the roster.

Since then, as losses have mounted and the team’s star power has waned, the food vendors that once lined streets outside the facility have thinned, unable to earn enough to justify the $2,500 license fee for doing business. That’s hardly what city officials promised after signing the eight-year agreement, touting it as a business-development coup that would lure thousands of tourists annually, enrich hotel and restaurant revenue and generate more than enough money from sponsorships and rental fees to pay for the custom-built facility.

As of August, the city had managed to repay just $1 million of the $10 million loan to construct the facility.

Barring a dramatic turnaround, it appears the Redskins will soon be seeking their fifth training-camp home since Daniel Snyder bought the team 19 years ago, following stints at Frostburg State in western Maryland; Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa.; Redskins Park in Ashburn; and Richmond.

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