RICHMOND — At 1:30 a.m. Thursday, a few fans were already lining up to get in and watch a workout at the new Washington Redskins training facility.
Never mind that the first workout of the day wasn’t scheduled to begin for another 8 1/2 hours, or that some on the team’s staff hadn’t gone to bed too much earlier.
The Redskins are in town. The headline in Wednesday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch was short and to the point. “They’ll be the ‘Richskins’ for three weeks,” it read. And from the looks of it, Richmonders will get in line early and get ready to claim full ownership.
“This is a huge deal for Richmond for a lot of different reasons,” said Greg Burton, a longtime area television and radio personality. “Richmond has always been Redskins country and to have them here for training camp is probably something people never thought was possible. They’ve talked about it for years. I’ve been here 15 years and it has been talked about ever since then.
“I don’t know if people here thought it was possible, but now it is a reality and people can’t wait.”
The team is working out at a new $10 million facility just up the road from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center. The team is headquartered at a downtown hotel for three weeks and visitors are coming in from all over the region. One couple from Crofton, Md., packed up their twin 4-month-old daughters and left home Thursday at 6 a.m. to see the day’s two workouts before heading home.
Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones said studies have shown the training camp will have an $8.8 million economic impact, though the actual figure is hard to quantify.
“There are studies that have been produced, but until we see what happens you would just be guessing,” said Jon Lugbill, executive director of the Metropolitan Richmond Sports Backers. “I do think the economic impact will be millions of dollars a year, but it is just a matter of how much. Are people staying overnight or only coming for the day? There is a big difference on the economic impact.”
More important, perhaps, than economic impact is what might be called prestige impact. Having the Redskins training camp in town is a big deal. That makes Richmond a big deal, which is something it has sought to become for a long time.
The city has always had a bit of an inferiority complex. One of its best traits was its proximity to so many other cool places. It is about two hours from Washington with all its history (and major league sports). It is about two hours from the beach, about two hours from the hills of the Shenandoah Valley.
The truth is, it has always had a lot to offer in terms of culture and, yes, sports. Lugbill’s organization conducts a number of participatory events each year, including the wildly popular Monument Avenue 10K that drew 38,000 runners in April.
College sports are strong. Virginia Union University has won Division II men’s basketball championships. The University of Richmond has won a national football championship in Division I-AA. VCU made it to the men’s basketball Final Four in 2011.
Pro sports-wise, it has had a spotty history with a number of minor league franchises. Several hockey teams have come and gone. Heel dragging over a new stadium cost the city the Atlanta Braves’ Triple-A affiliate after 43 years in town.
But that is changing. The Richmond Kickers soccer team does well, as does the fairly new baseball team — the Flying Squirrels, Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.