RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Virginia General Assembly is abandoning for the year legislation intended to lure the Washington Commanders to the state, a top lawmaker said Thursday.
Democratic Virginia Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw said in a brief interview that there were too many issues to be resolved and controversies surrounding the NFL team for the legislation to proceed. It could be reintroduced next year, said Saslaw, who has championed the stadium and sponsored one version of the legislation.
The team said in a statement that it supported the legislature's decision to “more deeply examine this issue.”
"We look forward to continued engagement and open dialogue with stakeholders across the Commonwealth to share our vision and hear directly from communities on their economic development objectives and how we can be a trusted, reliable partner to realize those outcomes," the statement said.
The team maintained that the new venue project would be a “remarkable economic development opportunity.”
The news came a day after an assistant coach for the team issued an apology after initially doubling down on a comparison he made on social media between the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and the protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
The remarks from Jack Del Rio, a former linebacker who now runs Washington’s defense, prompted a quick backlash. Several key lawmakers from northern Virginia who had previously supported the measure said publicly that they no longer backed the deal.
Legislation that would have offered the team lucrative tax incentives to help finance the stadium cleared both chambers this year, drawing an usual bipartisan mix of supporters. But other defectors had raised concerns even before Del Rio’s remarks, worrying about ongoing investigations into the team by attorneys general and Congress, plus transportation concerns.
“You've got the attorney general's thing, you've got all the congressional stuff, other issues to be answered. We decided that it will just remain in conference,” Saslaw said, meaning the measure won’t get another vote.
The team has been looking into new stadium possibilities for several years, and both Virginia and the District of Columbia have been interested in luring the team away from its current home at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.
But the District of Columbia also appears to be off the table for now after a majority of the city council ruled out using the old RFK Stadium site to house the Commanders. Councilmember Charles Allen said D.C. government “unequivocally” won’t support using that land for a new football stadium, which would appear to eliminate a popular choice for owner Dan Snyder and the organization.
Phil Mendelson, chairman of the D.C. City Council, who was not one of seven members who sent a letter to Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton ruling out the RFK site for a new stadium, said it does not represent a final decision. But Mendelson told AP on Thursday that the majority of members opposing using that land for a stadium takes it out of consideration for now.
In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan and lawmakers support developing the area around FedEx Field, but they have not supported paying for a new stadium in Maryland. Hogan signed a measure in April that would make up to $400 million in bonds available for development around the stadium in the suburbs of the nation’s capital, whether the team stays there or not.
A county plan calls for developing the area into a transit hub with new residential, retail and entertainment amenities. The law authorizes the Maryland Stadium Authority to use money from the state lottery to build infrastructure in the county. The funds for development will be available even if the Commanders leave the state when their lease in Landover expires in 2027.
The legislation says resulting development could include a convention center, an arts and entertainment amphitheater and “any other functionally related structures,” including parking garages.
Associated Press writers Stephen Whyno and Brian Witte contributed to this report.
Sarah Rankin, The Associated Press