Key Virginia state senator withdraws support for Commanders stadium bill

Key Virginia state senator withdraws support for Commanders stadium bill

A key Virginia state senator withdrew his support for a bill that would pave the way for the Washington Commanders to build a stadium in the state, a sign the piece of legislation could be in serious trouble.

State Senator Chap Petersen, a Fairfax Democrat, released a statement Wednesday that said he no longer supports the bill in Virginia’s legislature that would help fund the Commanders’ next stadium. The statement was an abrupt turn as Petersen was one of the main backers of the project as he originally voted for a bill in the state senate earlier this year. 

Petersen’s statement also comes days after the news that the Commanders purchased an option to acquire land in Woodbridge — a site 23 miles from the U.S. Capitol in the District. 

Petersen said he no longer supports the project or Virginia’s pursuit of the Commanders. 

“I have two concerns,” Petersen said in a statement. “One is that 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 withdrawal could be an indication that the stadium bill is losing support in Virginia’s legislature. The bill has already undergone significant changes as members from the House of Delegates and the Senate have worked to amend the legislation into one final bill for Gov. Ralph Northam. In the process, the state has dramatically lowered the amount that they’re willing to commit — dropping from $1 billion to $350 million. 

Virginia’s General Assembly is scheduled to reconvene next week for a special session. If the special session — aimed at primarily passing a state budget — concludes without the amended bill being re-introduced for a vote, the legislation would die in the conference committee. The general assembly could always reconvene for another special session for the bill, but that would have to be before July 1. Virginia lawmakers are likely to vote on the state budget on June 1. 

The Washington Post reported that State Senator Stephen D. Newman, a Bedford Republican, also cast doubt on the stadium bill after supporting it. Newman told the paper that “difficulties surrounding the owner” threaten to sink the legislation. He also indicated that the state’s price tag for the project would again be lowered to below $300 million.

Commanders owner Dan Snyder is the subject of at least four investigations over allegations of sexual misconduct and financial improprieties. The billionaire has denied the claims, but Congress, the NFL and attorneys general from Virginia and the District have active probes. 

Virginia legislators previously denied taking up an amendment for the stadium bill that called for the project to be dependent on the findings of investigations from Congress and the NFL. The House Oversight and Reform Committee began looking into the Commanders last fall after renewed backlash over the NFL’s decision to not release a written report of their workplace misconduct investigation into the Commanders. Amid the committee’s probe, the NFL launched a new investigation in February after a former Washington employee accused Snyder of making an unwanted advance. 

Petersen, meanwhile, told The Washington Times in February that he was “comfortable” with the state providing funding for a portion of the project for the Commanders and providing other incentives such as allowing the team to keep a portion of tax revenue. 

But Petersen’s tone publicly changed Wednesday evening. The turn was particularly stunning given that Petersen once co-founded the “Redskins Pride Caucus” in 2014. The caucus was formed to defend the team’s former moniker in light of criticism from American Indian groups. 
“I grew up a Washington Redskins fan and was a season ticket holder for 22 years,” Petersen said. “That team defined our community for multiple generations. The Washington Commanders are not that team.  They have no history, no tradition and no fan base.  I do not consider them an appropriate economic partner for the Commonwealth of Virginia, because I don’t think they have the community support to survive.”