In late May, the Washington Commanders stoked great curiosity with the purchase of 200 acres of land in Woodbridge. After months of legislative debate over the creation of a stadium authority to help publicly finance a new facility, the NFL franchise seemed to be inching closer to establishing a home in Virginia.
The $3 billion sports and entertainment complex would be anchored by a 55,000-seat domed field. One study estimates $24.7 billion in direct economic impact, along with 2,246 jobs generated by 2033. The Times-Dispatch recently reported that “a person with knowledge of the project’s development said the goal isn’t to attract the largest events on a sporadic basis, but to create a strong environment for the team every Sunday at home games.”
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What about the surrounding environment? How will the project serve Virginians who call the area home all year long? How will it affect travelers who use an already crowded Interstate 95?
“As far as we understand, the team is exploring all of their options, including where they currently own land,” said Christina Winn, executive director of Prince William County’s Department of Economic Development, in a May statement. “While this news doesn’t mean the team has officially chosen Prince William County, we look forward to engaging with the team to ensure any development opportunity would be a good fit for the community and there is a positive economic and fiscal benefit to the county.”
Winn’s comment should be the commonwealth’s compass in any stadium discussions. In dealings with the Commanders, patience must win out for Virginia.
Two items are of greater importance than the grandeur of a sold-out crowd watching a winning product.
First is transportation. Shortly after the Woodbridge land announcement dropped, a handful of Northern Virginia lawmakers soured on the idea, citing concerns about traffic. One example: A February 2020 study by TRIP, a national transportation research nonprofit, found drivers in the region lose up to $2,015 annually and sit for up to 102 hours per year in congested settings.
A separate Commanders proposal in Sterling would have involved access to a Metrorail station along the expanded Silver Line — but not without comparable mobility concerns.
“Transportation is so critical to my district,” said state Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, in a recent WTOP report. “There’s no way I can vote for it without seeing some extraordinary investment and innovation. I don’t think any of those conversations have yet to be developed and take place. I got to see it before anything moves forward.”
State Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City, also noted in a recent statement: “the development is too far removed from an urban setting, unlike Nats Park at The Navy Yard, which will make it solely dependent on vehicle traffic for access. More importantly, I don’t have confidence in the Washington Commanders as a viable NFL franchise.”
Petersen’s lack of confidence leads into the second issue: trust. Owner Daniel Snyder and his team are under investigation over claims of sexual and financial misconduct. On June 1, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform invited Snyder and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to a June 22 hearing addressing workplace culture issues within the club.
Matters became further muddled in recent days as Washington Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio gave an interview in which he dismissed the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol as a “dust-up,” comments that caused McPike and Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, to declare that they would not support the stadium bill. Del Rio later said it was “irresponsible and negligent” to call the riot a “dust-up.”
Thursday, the sponsors of the Commanders stadium bill withdrew it from consideration in this year’s General Assembly special session.
While the economic drumbeat generated by the team and its associated stadium advocates is worth listening to, what’s the rush? Ben Standig of The Athletic notes the Commanders’ deadline to exit FedEx Field appears to be self-imposed at best. The team is contractually locked in to playing in Maryland until 2027 and moreover, “Dan Snyder owns the team, the stadium and roughly 200 acres around the site where a replacement stadium could live.”
Until a Virginia-centered proposal meets the criteria outlined by Winn — a good fit for the community, along with positive economic and fiscal benefits for the selected locality — the commonwealth should keep setting the timeline, not the team. Until transportation and trust issues are better addressed, patience must win out.
— Adapted by the Roanoke Times from the Richmond Times-Dispatch
Chris Gentilviso is the Richmond Times-Dispatch Opinions editor. Contact him at: email@example.com