The heart of Loudoun--er, Ashburn.
The heart of Loudoun--er, Ashburn. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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There was some news in the lede of a press release that came out of Redskins Park last week:

“ASHBURN, Va. – The Washington Redskins announced today that they have signed wide receiver David Anderson, defensive lineman Kentwan (KEN-twon) Balmer and cornerback Domonique ‘D.J.’ Johnson.”

No, it wasn’t the arrival of another journeyman receiver.

The most interesting crumb was the dateline: “Ashburn, Va.”

Until recently, Redskins press releases opened with “Loudoun County, Va.”

The shift came amidst reports of the team talking with power people in D.C. and Prince George’s County about moving its practice facility, located in the Loudoun County town of Ashburn since 1992.

The press release address change is not coincidental to these discussions. Plainly, the marriage between the Redskins and Loudoun County is on the rocks. It wouldn’t be the first such alliance in the Dan Snyder era to end in acrimony.

In 2009, Loudoun’s Board of Supervisors voted to give the Redskins $250,000 as part of a marketing deal: The county could now call itself “The Corporate Home of the Redskins” and hold a promotional event at Redskins Park. In return, the team would use “Loudoun County” on press releases and run a Loudoun banner ad on the Redskins web site. Proponents said the deal would pay for itself via hotel-tax revenues from guests flocking to watch training camp.

A similar payment had been rejected a year earlier. But within months of that vote, the Redskins were rumored to be in talks with neighboring Fairfax County. There were also hints that a Redskins Hall of Fame could get built close to wherever the practice facility wound up. Loudoun’s board changed its mind.

Things appeared to be going well for a while. In May 2010, officials with the Loudoun Convention and Visitors Association declared that the alliance added $2.1 million to the local economy. County supervisors declared Sept. 7–Sept. 12, 2010, as “Redskins Week.” Team announcer Larry Michael could be heard dropping phrases like “in the heart of Loudoun County” on Redskins-produced TV programming.

But the two-year deal died a quiet death earlier this year. “It was a bad deal from the start,” says Loudoun County Supervisor Andrea McGimsey.

McGimsey, who opposed the original partnership, says her reservations were “absolutely validated” by the results. “It was all fuzzy math, just hocus-pocus numbers with no real specifics and no guarantees that the Redskins were even going to stay in the county,” she says. “I didn’t think we were going to get the value for our money, and I was proven correct.”

Asked about the $2.1 million figure cited by the Convention and Visitors Association, McGimsey laughs. “I don’t know where that came from,” she says. “I remember talking to one big hotel on the Route 28 corridor and asking them how having the Redskins was working for them, and he said he got zero night stays—like, zero—from the [training camp]. Everybody knows the agreement was a complete bust for us, and the people who pushed it two years ago let it die because they didn’t want anybody to start looking into what the actual hotel numbers were. But I have to say that Dan Snyder’s [lobbying] team is good at what they do: They struck a deal that was very good for them, and not good for anybody else.”

The tourism board, now called Visit Loudoun, stands by the revenue estimates. Marketing Director Brian Jenkins says his group worked with county officials to calculate revenues based on estimates of $50 spending per out-of-county visitor to training camp, and 1,000 extra hotel nights booked.

“I didn’t think it was a wise decision to give $250,000 to the richest team in the NFL,” says Loudoun County supervisor Kelly Burk, who also opposed the deal. “In the end, the county didn’t do it again, did we? That in itself was verification that it really wasn’t worth the money that we put up.” (Burk lost her seat earlier this month.)

Loudoun officials were also turned off by the uncertainties involved in doing business with a football team. Burk says the Redskins’ failure to build a practice bubble at Redskins Park was a sign that the team either intends to leave or wants people to think it might. “The village of Leesburg built a tennis bubble for itself not long ago,” she says. “The technology for a bubble is really not that complicated. If Dan Snyder really wanted to build a bubble, it would have been built.” Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie declined to comment by deadline.

Loudoun County didn’t celebrate Redskins Week in 2011. And there’s still no Redskins Hall of Fame in Ashburn.

All the same, it appears that Snyder’s team is using that same carrot to entice other jurisdictions.

Mayor Vince Gray and D.C. Councilmembers Michael Brown and Jack Evans got nabbed making what they’d hoped would be a secret getaway to Florida to scout the Tampa Bay Buccaneers $30 million training facility this month—just the sort of facility that could be built on a tract near RFK Stadium. And in June, P.G.’s county executive, Rushern Baker, called for a feasibility study for a Redskins practice facility on plot of public land near Bowie State University. A Redskins Hall of Fame has been mentioned in connection with both locations.

Evans, for one, hasn’t been shy about wanting the Redskins back. A year ago, he told WTOP that he was in a favor of a “$2 billion to $3 billion project” to replace RFK with a 110,000 seater “with a retractable roof.”

“I won’t rest until someday, someday, that the football team plays on this site,” Evans said a few weeks ago at an event commemorating RFK Stadium’s 50th anniversary.

A District practice facility could get that ball rolling. But before taxpayers fork over any money to aid a team owned by a guy who just bought a $70 million yacht, they should look at how the Redskins’ other public partnerships have gone.

Frostburg, Md., has just as frosty a relationship with Snyder as some Loudoun County supervisors do.

In 1995, then-Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke hammered out a 10-year, $331,000 per year deal to hold training camps at Frostburg State. It was the team’s way of saying “Thanks!” to Maryland for ponying up tax money to help build FedExField.

But soon after Snyder bought the team, the training camp moved to Ashburn, where the team infamously charged $10 admission and $10 parking during the 2000 preseason. The next year, when the Redskins paid Frostburg State $750,000 as part of the exit, the school used the money for a not-so-subtle poke at the new owner: an endowment in his predecessor’s name. “The positive memories of Mr. Cooke remain vivid in our minds as we think about the negotiation of a 10-year contract between the Redskins and Frostburg State University,” school President Catherine R. Gira said while announcing the Cooke scholarship.

McGimsey says her main piece of advice for D.C. politicians would be to “stay out of football” and toss marketing dollars towards more permanent things. “I was more for using the county’s money to promote our Civil War history,” she says. “Battlefields don’t move, and they don’t threaten to move.”

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