Buz Grossberg thinks the pigskin could be good for the barbecue business, after all.
Two days before Fan Appreciation Day at Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center, Grossberg didn’t think the team’s first preseason camp had lived up to the hype for his business, Buz & Ned’s Real Barbecue.
The next day, he began to change his mind as business picked up. Then on Fan Appreciation Day, Aug. 3, more than 25,000 fans mobbed the training center less than a mile away on West Leigh Street, and he became a believer.
“It started to break loose, and it’s been pretty strong since,” Grossberg said Friday as he watched the team’s final practice in the first year of an eight-year agreement with Richmond.
Now, he has a different outlook. “I think it will get better every year,” he said.
Skepticism has turned to optimism for a number of local businesses that almost had given up on the retail boom that was supposed to come with the fans of the NFL franchise.
On Robinson Street in the Fan District, businesses “are pretty upbeat about how this turned out and optimistic about it getting better for the future,” said Bob Adams, coordinator for the Robinson Street Association.
With total attendance for the 17-day camp at 165,571 people — a franchise record for preseason training — Richmond is just beginning to assess the economic costs and benefits of building the $10 million training facility for the Redskins.
Richmond Region Tourism has arranged with Virginia Commonwealth University to conduct a detailed study of the preseason camp’s economic impact on the city and region in its first year, but it’s too soon to draw conclusions.
“It could be months away,” said John F. Berry Jr., president and chief executive officer of the regional organization.
But beyondthe sold-out hotel rooms in Shockoe Slip and the spinoff business for local restaurants, the main economic value of the Redskins training camp is likely to be the impression of Richmond left on television viewers, newspaper readers and Internet viewers throughout the country and world.
“I think that the impact is far, far, far greater than the investment,” said Ken Johnson, president and CEO of Johnson Inc., a prominent Richmond marketing firm.
Johnson, who served on the search committee that recommended the 17-acre state property behind the Science Museum of Virginia as the site for the camp, estimates the advertising value to Richmond at $50 million to $100 million.
The reason is the Redskins brand. The team is using the camp to promote it throughout Virginia and into North Carolina.
“You never knew Carlisle, Pennsylvania, existed until the Redskins had their camp there,” Johnson said. “You never knew about Ashburn, Virginia,” home of the team headquarters and year-round training facility in Loudoun County.
But the Redskins and officials at the Richmond Economic Development Authority acknowledged last week that they can do more to spread the economic benefits of the camp to local businesses and the city that invested millions to make it happen.
Local restaurants, for example, weren’t represented within the training facility, where national chains such as Famous Dave’s and Papa John’s had spots under exclusive, year-round contracts with the Redskins.
“We are talking about ideas about how to move some local businesses inside” the camp, Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen said Friday.
The team and the economic development authority, a quasi-independent arm of city government that oversaw construction and financing of the facility, are talking about how to do “a better job next year of coordinating their efforts,” said EDA Chairman Richard Johnson.
“Those efforts have already started this year,” Johnson said.
The EDAalso is about to sign a contract with SMG Richmond, an arm of a Philadelphia-based giant in operating sports and entertainment facilities, to manage the training facility year-round.
Johnson acknowledged that SMG, or Spectator Management Group, could have helped with local sponsorships and other details of the camp’s first year if the contract had been signed sooner.
“It’s fair to say if we had had them on board earlier, it would have been beneficial to us,” he said.
He said the process of contracting with a management firm was slowed by completing the details of a complex set of agreements between the EDA and the Redskins and Bon Secours Health System, which is sponsoring the camp and leasing much of the facility year-round through $6.4 million in naming rights and fees.
In return, Bon Secours is getting a long-term lease for the former Westhampton School site on Patterson Avenue in the West End to expand St. Mary’s Hospital, one of four the organization operates in the Richmond area. The long-term value of the deal to Richmond Public Schools is estimated at $6.3 million.
Bon Secours also has committed to expanding Richmond Community Hospital in the city’s impoverished East End as part of the deal with the city and Redskins that was adopted by Richmond City Council in December after feverish negotiations to improve its terms, especially for the school system.
Johnson said those agreements had to be completed before the EDA could hire a company to manage the training facility and the amphitheater and park that will built there at an additional cost of almost $1 million.
“You can’t sign a contract … and not let (SMG) know what the limiting conditions are,” he said.
As the result of the delays, Richmond was slow in securing local sponsorships that will help defray the first installment of an annual $500,000 local contribution to the Redskins required under the contract.
However, Johnson said Richmond will get a 10 percent credit toward that contribution from any local sponsorship that the Redskins secured with a referral by the city.
He said the EDA also has yet to announce two pending, 12-month local sponsorships of the camp for the city.
The biggest sponsor remains Bon Secours, with what Richmond estimates will be a total investment of $40 million at the facility and the two hospital expansions.
The hospital will lease most of the 40,000-square-foot training facility for sports medicine and men’s health centers, a primary care practice and the system’s “Movin’ Mania” program for children’s fitness.
The facility will be managed under the pending contract with SMG, which already manages the Richmond Coliseum in partnership with Johnson Inc., as well as, separately, Landmark Theater and Richmond CenterStage.
“We really support them getting the contract,” said Charlotte Perkins, chief performance management officer at Bon Secours, which likes the company’s experience in managing sports and entertainment facilities.
Bon Secours is “ecstatic” with the first-year results of the camp, Perkins said, but she expects the partners to make changes to address any shortcomings next year.
“If there’s room for improvement, I know the city will address it and I know the Redskins will be open to it,” she said.
Richmond did not provide detailed information about the effect of the camp on the city, from traffic control and parking to the costs and benefits to taxpayers, but Mayor Dwight C. Jones called the camp “a phenomenal success on many fronts” and promised to work with Richmond Region Tourism and VCU “to capture data that will help measure the impact of the training camp.”
“All eyes have been on the city of Richmond this summer, and I am convinced that what they saw was a city on the move, that delivered a world-class facility in record time, and that offers a genuine sense of hospitality that will attract visitors in the future,” Jones said in a statement Saturday.
The Redskins acknowledged they will have to do a better job next year at Fan Appreciation Day, which overwhelmed the training camp site on a hot, muggy day that resulted in dozens of fans being treated for heat exhaustion. Portable toilets were in short supply as well.
“We will prepare for that better,” Allen said at a press briefing Friday.
The city contracted with Standard Parking to manage lots at The Diamond and around the periphery of the camp, but abandoned a plan to use a bus shuttle to transport people to and from City Stadium on Fan Appreciation Day because few people parked there.
“I would have guessed that City Stadium would be a very popular venue, but I was wrong,” Johnson said.
Instead, many visiting fans parked on city streets, which caused headaches for some businesses whose customers had nowhere to park.
William Byrd Barber Shop, at West Broad Street and Davis Avenue, estimates it lost $400 of business each day of the camp because fans took street parking away from customers, especially older ones who can’t walk far.
“We’ve had a hard time,” said JoAnne Edwards, the shop’s owner. “I know they brought money to Richmond, but it sure hasn’t helped a lot of small-business people.”
Some regular customers also stayed away from Fat Dragon on North Boulevard to avoid training camp crowds and traffic, said Chris Staples, the restaurant’s general manager.
Staples said some Redskins fans came to the restaurant, but business generally was flat during the camp.
Those kinds of complaints were more frequent earlier in the camp than at the end. On Robinson Street, for example, restaurants and other businesses initially didn’t see much response for their efforts to attract fans — including hiring a trolley car to shuttle fans on some days and handing out postcards with a map and names of businesses on the street.
“It was a slow start, and I think people were certainly a little disappointed,” said Adams, who owns a real estate consulting business on Robinson. “It got better.”
The payoff came on Thursday, when Allen and Redskins owner Dan Snyder went for a long stroll along Robinson Street at happy hour.
They stopped at Metro Grill to sample its signature RGIII Burger, named for Redskins star quarterback Robert Griffin III with three of everything — beef patties, sauces and cheese (gorgonzola, gouda and goat).
“They loved the fact that we had the burger,” said Kevin Mandeville, one of the restaurant’s owners.
By the end of the evening, they also had stopped at Buddy’s, 304 Pizza Bar, Curbside, and Jorge’s Cantina to have a few drinks and talk with Redskins fans.
“That was very cool,” Adams said.
One clear winner was Gus’ Bar and Grill, at 2701 West Broad St. near the camp’s entrance. Spiros Flemotomos, who owns the bar with his wife, Josie, said his lunch business tripled during training camp.
“It was absolutely tremendous, and we had a lot of Redskins fans in here,” he said. “I was really happy, and my servers were happy, too.”
Jacob Geiger, director of Work It, Richmond, contributed to this story.