Three days into Richmond’s venture into NFL football, the gridiron extravaganza is getting mostly positive reviews from those who see it as a boon to the city.
But while the majority of fans and businesses seem to have positive things to say, others say parking is an issue, customers aren’t showing up and that a major walkway, which is many visitors’ introduction to Richmond, is strewn with garbage.
The $10 million Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center, on West Leigh Street behind the Science Museum of Virginia, officially opened to fans Thursday. The team will remain here, getting ready for the season, for three weeks.
“It’s a bit too far for everyone, and the children have to walk along the street,” Anne Lindsay of Newburg, Md., said Saturday.
Lindsay, with her daughter-in-law Angela and two grandchildren, was walking to the team’s training camp facility from The Diamond, about a mile away.
As they made their way along the Boulevard, cars sped by to their right, inches from the children; to their left, the grassy slope along the sidewalk was littered with beer bottles, cigarette packs and a nearly footlong strip of faded police tape.
“This is a bit of a hike,” Angela Lindsay said. “And the directions aren’t very good.”
Despite the long walk and tired children, as they left two hours later, the Lindsays said they’d be back before the end of training camp.
The Lindsays aren’t alone. Many of those who expressed dissatisfaction said they are willing to give the city and the Redskins the benefit of the doubt and a second chance.
Some who complained said they still planned on experiencing what the city has to offer.
Amen Haddis, who drove from Temple Hills, Md., with his girlfriend, Ayana Jackson, wasn’t thrilled with the way fans were forced to watch the action on the field.
He said the facility needs to improve sight lines for fans and should consider bringing in bleachers or some sort of seating.
Like others, he said the round-trip walk from The Diamond was too long and the garbage surprising.
“But it doesn’t bother me too much,” Jackson said.
The pair planned to spend the afternoon eating and shopping around town, visiting several attractions they had found online.
It wasn’t just fans who have found that the training camp experience didn’t completely live up to expectations.
Robert Biggs, owner of Biggs Mobile Foods parked at Moore Street and Boulevard, was disappointed at the number of customers who visited his trailer early Saturday.
“It’s the first day I’ve been here, but I expected better,” he said.
And Frank Becker, director of marketing for Buffalo Wild Wings, who had the company’s Wings on Wheels food trailer parked on Leigh Street, said the first three days of camp have “been mixed.”
Several other mobile food vendors complained that city police were unaware of the rules on where such trailers may park and how long they can stay in place. They said police kept giving them a hard time about where they were parked and when to move.
Frank Saucier, though, had bigger problems than crowds or where to park.
“It’s been bad. Real bad,” he said.
Saucier, of Richmond, ran afoul of the National Football League for selling unauthorized T-shirts and buttons at his stand on Leigh Street near the Boulevard.
League officials came by Saturday morning, searched his vehicle and confiscated his merchandise, leaving him with only cotton candy and candied apples to sell.
He lost a few hundred dollars’ worth of merchandise.
“I thought I could have them, but I couldn’t,” he said. “Thank God they didn’t take my cotton candy.”
Training camp is a big deal for the city of Richmond.
The city built the facility, which was completed in just six months, after sealing a complex financial deal with sponsor Bon Secours Richmond Health System.
The costs will include a $500,000 annual “local contribution” from the city to the Redskins under the agreement between the team and the Richmond Economic Development Authority, which will settle up with the franchise every December as part of the eight-year training camp deal.
The city said last year that training camp would bring 100,000 visitors a year and make an $8.5 million economic impact.
Mike Jackson of Henrico County hopes the city will capitalize on training camp and that it will be a springboard to better things, including attracting a major league sports franchise here.
“We can’t sit idly by like we do all the time,” he said. “I’ve traveled all over the world (as a U.S. Marine), and every time I come back it’s the same old Richmond.”
Early returns show some reason for optimism.
On Thursday, 10,100 fans showed up, the largest opening attendance for a Redskins camp.
Saturday’s crowd was the largest the team has ever had at training camp outside of a Fan Appreciation Day. The team said 15,124 attended Saturday — 3,955 for the morning session and 11,169 in the afternoon.
At the Science Museum of Virginia on Saturday afternoon, fans decked out in Redskins gear seemed to outnumber other visitors.
“It’s hard to tell, but I suppose we have seen some” increase in attendance, said Nancy Tait, spokeswoman for the museum.
The museum is actively looking to attract football fans during training camp by highlighting the science of football and hosting the Redskins’ three Super Bowl trophies Tuesday.
But how all those people and the attention translate into customers for local businesses remains to be seen.
Buz Grossberg, owner of two Buz and Ned’s Real Barbecue restaurants, said Saturday sales at the Boulevard location “were normal if not slower” than a regular Saturday, and “we should have done far more than we have.”
“I would think this would have been the biggest weekend,” he said.
For Norman Shaw of Richmond, however, nothing else mattered but taking his grandson, Jasiah Gains, to watch his favorite football team get ready for the season.
“This is real nice,” he said, adding that he hoped Jasiah would sharpen his football skills. The 7-year-old is a linebacker and running back on a team that his grandfather coaches.
“He can learn from these guys,” Shaw said.
Asked if this was his first trip out to training camp, Shaw said no.
“I came out Thursday but couldn’t find a place to park.”