Opinion: How Redskins Football Pushed Richmond's Schools to the Breaking Point
BY CAROL A.O. WOLF
To understand why our city has so many potholes, and more significantly why our parents and teachers must beg City Council to fully fund our schools and students are walking out of class to protest poor conditions, you need to know how we got here.
This is a sad and shameful tale about a steal of a deal made in 2012 by Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones, the Washington Redskins, Bon Secours Health System and the city’s so-called Economic Development Authority, and how they helped create the colossal cluster muck that is the city’s finances today.
This tale of Richmond resembles nothing so much as the children’s fable, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Both stories are about the stupidity and gullibility of a vainglorious leader whose key advisers refused to see, hear or speak the truth when the emperor, claiming to be wearing a marvelous outfit, was, in fact, buck naked.
In the Richmond version of this story, besides being gullible and silly, the mayor, his advisers, and all the Richmond backers who pushed this steal of a deal are also really bad at math.
Stay with me, folks, as I connect the dots in this municipal nightmare and show how the City of Richmond — a place where 40 percent of our children live at or below the poverty line and where some of the public schools are literally falling in on our kids’ heads — came to build a $10 million state-of-the-art training facility for the Washington Redskins. Yes, they’re the third wealthiest National Football League franchise, worth $2.85 billion, according to Forbes Magazine.
Not only did our city pick up the tab for the exclusive Redskins facility, but also — and I swear I’m not making this up — our leaders actually agreed to pay the Redskins $500,000 a year to use the facility for three weeks each August. Moving expenses, sponsorships, whatnot. Half a million dollars. For three weeks a year. Mind you, we don’t even have bleachers to sit on, nor can our kids play football on the fields during the other 49 weeks when the Redskins aren’t in town. Really.
But that’s not the worst, or even the most outrageous part. In order to make this deal happen, the 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. By leasing the property to the Redskins for $5,000 a year for 60 years, the city deal-makers cleverly cheated not only the schools out of necessary revenue that would have been realized had the property been sold, but also the city, because the city is responsible for funding the schools. Brilliant plan, guys.
“The property is worth $7.5 to $10 million,” Delegate G. Manoli Loupassi said at the time. “If they sold it all the money would go to the schools.” Loupassi lambasted the deal in a letter to Jones in October 2012. “Giving up a $7.5 million piece of property is way too much,” he said. “We’re not flush with cash.”
Asked recently if he still thinks the Redskins deal was a bad for the city, Loupassi replied, “Bad then, even worse now.”
Real estate professionals opined that the open market value of this prime real estate with significant historic tax credits actually was $20 million to $30 million. Realtor Melissa Savenko wrote about the idiocy of this deal on her blog: “You have to look back no further than the Redskins training facility transaction to see the disregard the administration and business community have for the citizens’ opinions.”
Residents throughout the city agree that the mayor’s legacy will be defined, in part, by this shockingly bad deal he made with the Redskins and Bon Secours, in which he gave away the Westhampton School property in return for Bon Secours’ promise to build itself a $6.4 million sports medicine facility.
At last week’s mayoral candidate forum, 11 of the 12 announced candidates said they didn’t think the Redskins deal had been good for the city. Not surprisingly, the only candidate who managed to mumble an unintelligible, semisupportive response was council President Michelle Mosby, who’s attended at least one Redskins game with the mayor.
Meanwhile, the parents, teachers, students, school administration and School Board members struggle with the possibility of closing six schools in the face of a budget shortfall.
Never mind all the talk about lost opportunity costs to the city and its public schools. The city got the intended quid pro quo. The mayor was able to cavort with Redskins cheerleaders and sit in the Redskins owner’s box with billionaire owner Dan Snyder, team president Bruce Allen and the execs of nonprofit Bon Secours.
Next time you drive over a pothole, imagine what the schools, and the city, could do with an additional $20 million to $30 million. And then think of the mayor and his buddies with their arms around a cheerleader. 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.