Virginia’s pursuit of Commander Stadium loses steam after state senator’s comments

Chap Petersen is such a big fan of Burgundy and Gold that the Virginia senator once co-founded the “Redskin Pride Caucus” to defend the team’s predecessor. Just a few months ago, Fairfax Democrats appeared to be among the main proponents of a bill that would help the state provide hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidies to fund the team’s next stadium.

But in a stunning reversal late Wednesday, Peterson announced he was withdrawing his support for the stadium project — saying in a statement that he had lost confidence in the team as a “viable NFL team.” He added that the Commander – “a team with no history, no tradition, no fan base” – was no longer the right economic partner for the Commonwealth because “I don’t think they have the community support to survive.”

Peterson’s comments raised questions about whether there was enough support for the bill to pull it out of a special session in Richmond next week.

Peterson isn’t the only state senator to hold back. Sen. Barbara A. Favola, Democrat of Arlington, said she also no longer supports the bill — telling The Washington Times that her lawmakers’ views on the program have occurred “obviously” change”.

“A lot has changed since we first saw the bill,” she said. “It doesn’t support the stadium anymore, in my opinion.”

In February, both the Virginia Senate and the House of Representatives passed bills creating the Football Stadium Authority — a key step in attracting commanders — with broad bipartisan support. For example, the Senate bill passed 32 to 8, including “yes” votes by Peterson and Favora. A conference committee was formed between the two chambers to resolve differences.

Since then, however, the bill appears to have hit a snag. Favora said she now has “real issues” with Commander boss Dan Snyder, as the billionaire is the subject of multiple investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct and financial impropriety. The latter came after the bill was initially passed. Snyder denied the claims, but Favora said: “The latest information has affected a lot of people. It definitely shakes me.”

Senator Stephen D. Newman also mentioned Snyder as a sticking point. Newman, a Bedford Republican, told The Washington Post that the owners’ troubles have the potential to overturn the legislation.

Aside from Snyder, the location the team chose for the project was reportedly not well-received by some lawmakers. The commanders bought the option to buy 200 acres of land in Woodbridge — a team source said they had purchased the land only to clarify to lawmakers that the team had only purchased an option for this purpose — — but the announcement immediately sparked new concerns about the area’s notoriously toxic traffic.

The proposed site is on a congested stretch of Interstate 95, 23 miles south of the U.S. Capitol, with no subway station.

“I knew the first thing was going to be traffic,” Sen. Jeremy McPike, Democrat of Prince William County, told WUSA 9. “It has to be appropriate.”

Mike Pike also told 106.7 The Fan on Thursday that after initially voting yes, he may now vote no.

Commanders insist that Monday’s land purchase does not mean the team has made Woodbridge their next home. On Thursday, the Richmond Times reported that commanders had drawn up plans for another stadium site in Loudoun — closer to where the team is now training in Ashburn. The paper added that, unlike Woodbridge, commanders were not able to obtain land rights.

However, Favora said it didn’t matter where the commander wanted to play. She will not vote for the bill.

“It’s really hard for me to see where the real potential negative impact of the stadium is being benefited,” Favora said.

It remains to be seen whether the recent change in attitude will actually prevent the passage of the bill. Virginia lawmakers reconvened Wednesday for a vote on the state budget, where the reworked bill could be regrouped from a conference committee.

House member Luke Torrian, a Democrat from Prince William, told The Washington Post that he remains “very confident” that the bill will have majority support in both chambers.

But the loss of Peterson’s support was unexpected. In February, he told The Washington Times that he was “pleased” with giving the team incentives, such as being able to keep some sales tax revenue. As he did in his most recent statement, he did not address concerns about the viability of the Commander franchise.

In two appearances at 106.7, Peterson ignited the team. He said the commanders are no longer “an iconic part of our community” like they were when the team won the Super Bowl with coach Joe Gibbs in the 1980s. Losing support over the years — Washington has the second-worst attendance in 2021 — has contributed to his view of a long-term partnership with the team, he said. He wondered what would have happened if the Commanders averaged just 20,000 fans a year over the five years of their stadium deal.

“Will it be more acceptable to do this with an expanded franchise than with the current franchise?” Peterson told the station. “Let’s face it, I think the answer is probably yes.”

Peterson’s comments were met with some pushback from team officials. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio tweeted in part: “Not feasible? Please. Winning is key…forever!” Coach Ron Rivera tweeted about the team’s proposed team headquarters renderings. “Be proud of what we’re building,” he said.

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