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Citing controversies, Virginia lawmakers drop bill to lure Commanders stadium to state

The action comes on the heels of inflammatory comments by Commanders' Jack Del Rio that downplayed the Jan. 6 insurrection.

RICHMOND, Va. — EDITOR'S NOTE: The video above is from June 1, explaining an economic impact analysis that described the proposed new stadium in Northern Virginia. 

Virginia lawmakers who sponsored legislation hoping to lure the Washington Commanders new stadium to the state announced Thursday they are now tabling the bill amid controversies surrounding the team. 

The bill now remains in committee until the end of the legislative session and any action on the effort would need to wait until next year's General Assembly, when a new bill would be introduced. 

Sen. Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) was the main sponsor of the Senate bill. The legislation in the House was sponsored by House Appropriations Chairman Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach. 

Saslaw said in a brief interview with the Associated Press that there were too many issues to be resolved and controversies surrounding the NFL team for the legislation to proceed. It could be reintroduced next year, he said.

“We greatly appreciate the time and effort of bipartisan leaders throughout the Virginia General Assembly in crafting legislation to establish a Football Stadium Authority," the Commanders said when asked for comment. 

"Given the complexity of this endeavor, coupled with the remarkable economic development opportunity that we believe our new venue project represents, we support the decision of stakeholders in the House of Delegates and the State Senate to more deeply examine this issue. We look forward to continued engagement and open dialogue with stakeholders across the Commonwealth to share our vision and hear directly from communities on their economic development objectives and how we can be a trusted, reliable partner to realize those outcomes.”

The news comes on the heels of a Washington Commanders defensive coordinator drawing fire for defending tweets drawing comparisons between racial justice protests in the summer of 2020 and the Capitol riot in 2021. 

Jack Del Rio was replying to a news article about the Jan. 6 hearings asking why the summer of "riots, looting, burning and the destruction of personal property" isn't getting the same level of attention by lawmakers, hashtagging the tweet #CommonSense. 

Legislation that would have offered the team lucrative tax incentives to help finance the stadium cleared both chambers this year, drawing an usual bipartisan mix of supporters. But other defectors had raised concerns even before Del Rio’s remarks, worrying about ongoing investigations into the team by attorneys general and Congress, plus transportation concerns.

“You've got the attorney general's thing, you've got all the congressional stuff, other issues to be answered," Saslaw said. "We decided that it will just remain in conference." 

Del Rio doubled down Wednesday while speaking to reporters during an OTA about the message he wanted to send with the tweet.

"I can look at images on the TV, people's livelihoods are being destroyed, businesses are being burned down, no problem," Del Rio said Wednesday. "And then we have a dust-up at the Capitol, nothing burned down, and we're going to make that a major deal?"

Del Rio didn't acknowledge the deaths connected to the Jan. 6 riot or the more than 140 police officers who were injured in the original tweet or the follow-up comments.

In a statement released hours later on Twitter, Del Rio walked back portions of his comments, apologizing for referring to the insurrection as a "dust-up."

"Referencing that situation as a dust-up was irresponsible and negligent and I am sorry," the coach said. 

Del Rio went on to say he supports all forms of peaceful protests, but condemns community violence. 

"I stand by my comments condemning violence in communities across the country," he tweeted. "I say that while also expressing my support as an American citizen for peaceful protest in our country. I have fully supported all peaceful protests in America. I love, respect, and support all my fellow coaches, players, and staff that I work with and respect their views and opinions."

Also on Thursday, D.C. Councilman Charles Allen, with the backing of a majority of the council, sent a letter to D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton saying the council would not support an NFL stadium at the RFK campus, writing "the debate is done." Allen also thanked Holmes for her efforts to try to bring the RFK stadium site within District control.  

Allen further referenced the inflammatory comments by Del Rio as "yet another reason not to spend public money on the team" and also stressed that he believes the economics don't make sense. 

"[T]he fact remains simple: football stadiums are a uniquely bad use of a tax dollars," he wrote. "Putting tax dollars toward the bottom line of a billionaire’s team with an ugly history of racism and misogyny does not benefit District residents."

On June 1, an economic impact analysis commissioned by the Commanders and obtained by WUSA9 showed a proposed new stadium in Northern Virginia would hold a maximum of 55,000 fans, giving it the smallest seating capacity in the NFL. By comparison, the team’s current home stadium, FedEx Field in Prince George’s County, currently holds 82,000 people. The franchise’s former stadium, RFK in D.C., held just over 57,000 fans.

The seating capacity was included in an executive summary of an “Economic Impact Analysis” of a Commanders potential stadium site in Northern Virginia, which estimates the “direct economic impact of the project will be $24.7 billion in the Commonwealth by 2033, supporting 2,246 jobs when the stadium project reaches full capacity.”

Credit: Source
Washington Commanders Stadium Retail Walk Rendering

Back in April, Washington Commanders President Jason Wright made a few promises about what fans can expect from the team's next home, and at the time even gave Prince George's County hope of a future at FedEx Field. 

In a one-on-one interview with WUSA9, the president of the franchise offered his own insight on the location of the Commanders stadium, as leaders in Northern Virginia, D.C. and Maryland have all been publicly speaking out about where the team's home games should be played. 

Wright emphasized that the location and design of the next stadium will not be something created by team management alone, but rather an "economic development project" that must be considered by all three jurisdictions vying for the stadium. 

Credit: WUSA9

"Whether it's Maryland, D.C. or Virginia, this is first and foremost about what they need to create in terms of economic outcomes for the next 30 years for their citizens," Wright said. "It needs to be aligned with the objectives of community leaders and government leaders." 

Wright mentioned four design principles that he said will be considered for any location proposal, in order to safeguard the "legacy of the team": intimacy, authenticity, connection and unity. 

Though Wright made it clear the team expects a financial investment in some form where ever it builds a new stadium, as part of a partnership with the jurisdiction hosting the stadium, he said it's not just a matter of going with the highest bidder. 

"That's not at all how we're looking at this ... it's such a mischaracterization of the process," Wright argued. "It's not inciting a big bidding war, it's just actually the due diligence of finding one of the few places in the area that can accommodate 100 to 200 acres, true development of the scale that we think is appropriate." 

Wright added that the proposals in D.C., Maryland and Virginia can't be looked at as "apples to apples" because the opportunities each region affords are unique. 

"The dollar amounts mean something different based on the nature of the site, so it's really about the community telling us what their vision is," Wright said. "It's not about giving Dan money. It's about providing a destination experience for the community." 

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