Richmond was looking for a big-dollar corporate backer to help it bring the Washington Redskins training camp to the city.
It approached Bon Secours, one of the area’s largest health-care organizations, which for years had had its eye on a six-acre city-owned property near one of its hospitals in the West End.
Those dual desires helped fuel the deal announced last month by which Bon Secours agreed to help bankroll an athletic facility behind the Science Museum on West Broad Street in exchange for a chance to get its hands on the Westhampton School property near Libbie and Patterson avenues.
Although the deal is awaiting city council approval, it has drawn public opposition from at least one council member and residents of the affected neighborhoods.
At a public meeting organized by the city and attended by about 75 people, residents spoke out Thursday against a perceived lack of transparency in the city’s dealings with Bon Secours and the impact an NFL training camp would have on the area of the city near Broad and Boulevard. Others spoke in support of the city’s deal.
Last week, before becoming deadlocked in a still-too-close-to-call election race against John Baliles, City Council member Bruce Tyler raised questions about the city’s deal with Bon Secours.
Tyler represents the district in which the Westhampton School property sits. Bon Secours has been eying the land for expansion of its nearby St. Mary’s hospital campus since at least 2009.
In a mailer sent out in his district prior to the Nov. 6 election, Tyler called the move a “back-room deal.”
“While Bon Secours’ desire to purchase the Westhampton School property was well known, Mayor [Dwight] Jones’ willingness to negotiate a back-room deal without public knowledge or input is an insult not only to the citizens of the 1st District, but to the entire city,” Tyler wrote.
Tyler said he supported a public sale of the property in which the proceeds would help make infrastructure improvements to schools in his district.
Jane Ferrara, chief operating officer at the city’s economic development office, said the administration saw the deal with Bon Secours as part of a larger economic development initiative.
“The properties that the city owns are our best opportunity to effect economic development,” Ferrara said. “The best use of that property is not to sell it off in a one-off deal to get a few million dollars for it.”
The drugstore chain Walgreens had also been pursuing the Westhampton School property. Ferrara said at the meeting Thursday that Walgreens was offering the city $1 million per acre.
Bon Secours wants to build a 75,000-square-foot medical building on the site and would pay millions more for construction and to lease space at the training-camp site and to expand its East End hospital. Ferrara said the agreement with Bon Secours represents an almost $40 million investment that would add almost 200 jobs.
“We took a three-week training camp and turned it into a long-term investment in the city,” Ferrara said.
As proposed, the city would grant Bon Secours four acres of the Westhampton property for at least 60 years for $5,000 per year.
Bon Secours would commit to paying $3 million for the naming rights to the Redskins training camp facility on 17 acres owned by the state at DMV Drive and Leigh Street. The Redskins would occupy the facility for three weeks each summer for eight years. Bon Secours would also build offices for a sports medicine program and a men’s health clinic at the facility.
The deal also calls for Bon Secours to spend $8.5 million for a 25,000-square-foot expansion of its Richmond Community Hospital on Nine Mile Road in the East End, increasing the availability of health care in that part of town.
Ferrara reiterated that the deal must still go before City Council for approval and that all such real estate transactions are negotiated in private.
Charles Samuels, the newly reelected council member from the Second District, which encompasses the Carver neighborhood where the training camp would be, took issue with Bruce Tyler’s characterization of the deal.
“I wouldn’t call it a back-room deal,” he said. “The administration has been working very hard to get Bon Secours to invest more in the east end of town to pull in more private development. What this deal does is gets Bon Secours to invest in three areas of the city. … It seems like a great deal for the citizens, for Bon Secours, for the city and for the Redskins as well.”
The council will vote Monday on a measure to approve the general framework of the deal. The land-use permits and the financing of the deal will have to be approved by council.
Bon Secours, a $3.3 billion nonprofit health system, has almost 2,000 employees in the Richmond area.