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Taxpayer money or billionaire profit share: Debate continues over Virginia plans to host Commanders stadium

SB 727 would create a Virginia Football Stadium Authority, which would sell $1 billion in bonds to help finance owner Dan Snyder’s new Commanders stadium.

WASHINGTON — The plan to bring the Washington Commanders to Northern Virginia comes with a $1 billion price tag for the Commonwealth. But lawmakers in Richmond are at odds over whether that would be considered taxpayer money or just a profit share of sorts between the state and Commanders owner Dan Snyder.

“We’re not giving them anything,” said Virginia Senate Majority leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax). “They don’t get anything. Zero. Nada.”

Saslaw wrote Senate Bill 727 to create a Virginia Football Stadium Authority, which would then turn around and sell $1 billion in bonds to help finance a new stadium for Snyder, calling it a win-win for the state.

“The state nets after 30 years and the payoff of the bonds $1.8 billion that they wouldn't have had, if you all can understand that, had they gone to Maryland," Saslaw said. 

The bonds sold by the Virginia Football Stadium Authority would be repaid using $1 billion of the future tax revenue generated by the new stadium, money that would otherwise go to fund state services, like public safety, schools, health care and transportation.

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But Saslaw said that’s still better than stadium deals in Las Vegas and Atlanta, which fronted hundreds of millions of dollars from taxpayers to help pay for construction.

“We are not funding a nickel, not a nickel of that project,” Saslaw said. “The people who are criticizing it haven't read the bill and don't know what they're talking about.”

State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), who represents Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax Counties, is one of the few opponents of Virginia's bond plan.

“I don't believe that Dan Snyder needs taxpayer funds to build a stadium in Virginia,” Ebbin said. “The Super Bowl was played in a $5 billion stadium that was entirely constructed with private funds. And that's what this project should be.”

RELATED: Virginia plan to score Washington Commanders new stadium calls for $1 billion in bonds

The stadium bill has bi-partisan support in the Senate and House, which is moving towards passage of a similar, although somewhat less generous financial incentive plan for Snyder. The differences between the two packages will have to be ironed out before final passage.

State Sen. Mark Peake (R -Lynchburg) also doesn’t like the idea of incentivizing a billionaire NFL owner.

“He says it's not going to cost the taxpayers of Virginia anything,” Peake said of Saslaw’s proposal. “But we're giving tons and tons of tax benefits to private companies and private individuals. So, somebody is getting a benefit. And nobody's been able to tell me, how much is Dan Snyder going to make off of this deal?”

Although Saslaw said economic forecasts of the financial windfall from a new Commanders stadium virtually guarantees huge returns for the state and the county where it is ultimately built, historically, stadium deals have not always been good business for local governments.

There are examples of football stadiums spurring growth, like the New England Patriots Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Gillette Stadium now sits adjacent to Patriot Place, a bustling 1.3-million-square-foot retail mega center.

That's the type of development Maryland leaders hoped to see spring up around FedEx Field, but it never did. 

George Mason University business professor George Perry said it’s always a safer bet to see economic growth around a new stadium if that stadium is located in an urban area with an established infrastructure and access to public transportation. That would be far from a sure thing if the Washington Commanders make a move to Virginia.

RELATED: Economic boost from a new Washington Commanders stadium not a sure thing

RELATED: While a future home of the Washington Commanders remains uncertain, Leesburg elected officials say they don’t want it

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