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Team Stoney Should Let the Redskins Deal Drop and Demand Accountability

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For the Washington Redskins — valued at $3 billion, one of the most valuable sports franchises in the world — the City of Richmond built a training facility for $10 million. Of course, the deal would pay for itself, right?

Recently we learned that Richmond taxpayers soon will be on the hook for an additional $750,000 a year beyond the already ridiculous $500,000 yearly tribute to the football franchise to pay for that facility. As tempting as it would be to blame the Redskins and owner Dan Snyder for this fiasco, that would be wrong. The fault lies with us, the suckers who fell for a deal that everyone knew was too good to be true.

Moreover, given that the financial morass involving the Redskins, Bon Secours, City Hall and the Economic Development Authority was not made by the current mayor or his administration, it would be wrong to blame Levar Stoney. Instead, here's some free advice for Mayor Levar Stoney: When the July 1 deadline rolls around to decide whether to renew the Redskins deal, let that ball drop.

It would be an even smarter move on Stoney's part to join City Council in demanding an investigation of what happened here, why it went so wrong, exactly how much this mess has cost, and how much it will cost from here to the end. Consider it a lesson about how not to do a deal.

If Team Stoney or City Council decline to investigate, showing themselves to be politically tone-deaf on this issue, then we, the people, need to demand answers. If we don't, we're all a bunch of Charlie Brown chumps letting Lucy get away with moving the football while we eat a new meal tax. 

And before anybody goes skipping down the Coliseum path with many of the same political leaders and respected members of the business and legal communities — all of whom swore repeatedly that the Redskins deal would more than pay for itself and would not wind up costing the taxpayers a dime — we need to put some brakes in place so this doesn't happen again. And again. 

For starters, there needs to be an accounting of how the money was spent. According to various news releases, the state was supposed to put in $4 million to move the Redskins training camp from Ashburn to Richmond. Loudoun County was supposed to spend $2 million helping the Redskins refurbish its headquarters in Ashburn. 

Bon Secours was supposed to invest some $40 million as part of the project. In exchange, for paying $6.4 million in naming rights and rent, Bon Secours got a 60-year-lease for $5,000 a year for 4 acres near its St. Mary's Hospital. The nonprofit hospital group, with revenues of more than $3 billion, plans to use the acreage, known as the Westhampton School site, for a $24 million expansion of St. Mary's. It was also supposed to invest $8.5 million to build or expand a medical facility elsewhere in the city.

Bon Secours recently asked for, and received, its fourth extension of a deadline for breaking ground on the plan for the Westhampton School site.

Didn't all of the people involved in this deal know that one out of four children in Richmond lives at or below the poverty line? And that our schools have been falling apart for years? Or that our city school athletic facilities and equipment are so pitiful that county kids have donated sports gear to our teams? If not, they should have known.

Yet certain politicians, preachers and business leaders saw nothing wrong with a plan that involved re-purposing construction money from schools ($5.6 million) and jails ($4 million) so Richmond could get in the game.

It's embarrassing to recall how giddy they were, talking about how we would soon have NFL players and cheerleaders in our midst and how this was the deal they would be proud to tell their grandchildren that they made happen. 

But that's not even the most shameful part. To make this deal, the former mayor and his advisers basically stole — yes, stole — a school property assessed at $7.5 million from the public school system and used it as the anchor of the deal. Rather than turn the property into badly needed $7.5 million in cash — some experts even have opined that Bon Secours would have paid $30 million for the corner 4 acres adjoining its campus — the city dealmakers leased it to Bon Secours for $5,000 a year for 60 years, a current value of less than $100,000. Brilliant deal, guys.

The good people at Bon Secours understood how good this deal was for them, and had no problem accepting that building or putting their name on the Bon Secours Redskins Training Center at 2401 W. Leigh St.

The folks who told all those lies about this being a good deal — lies they told in church, in City Hall, on television, and in fancy restaurants here and in Washington while wining and dining on our tax dollars — got away with it. But our schools did not. They're still falling apart. You can watch teacher-posted videos of rats running in the hallways.

Meanwhile, some of these same leaders want to talk to you about a deal on a new Coliseum. S

Carol A.O. Wolf is a former newspaper reporter who served on the Richmond School Board from 2002 to 2008. She writes regularly about the Richmond Public Schools at saveourschools-getrealrichmond.blogspot.com.
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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