– By Andrea Gaines
Major change is coming to the 15-acre+ Fireman’s Field complex in Purcellville with the approval of a high-powered public-private partnership among the Town of Purcellville, football great Shaun Alexander, Play To Win LLC, and Loudoun ECHO. Shaun Alexander Enterprises LLC will direct the complex’s programmatic approach, finances, and business strategy. Play to Win LLC will provide management and scheduling for the fields. And, ECHO – Every Citizen Has Opportunities – will provide staffing to ensure regular and ongoing maintenance for all grounds and facilities.
The Fireman’s Field complex includes Fireman’s Field, the Bush Tabernacle, Haske Field, and Dillon’s Woods. The five-year management contract was awarded to the group in mid-November after a lengthy proposal process. The Town projects an increase in annual revenues of just under $90,000 in year one and upwards of $125,000 by the fifth year. The complex currently generates approximately $31,000 in annual revenue.
Searching for Salvation
With historic structures and milestones associated with the Loudoun County Emancipation Association, the Babe Ruth League, and the Temperance Movement of the late 19th Century – and newer events such as the Purcellville Wine & Food Festival and the Loudoun Grown Expo – Fireman’s Field has come to represent the community’s field of dreams. A field of dreams yearning to become true.
Both the Town and the County – whose lease expires at the end of this year – have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in various parts of the complex over the years.
But, despite the historic and community importance of the place, a lack of vision – combined with the restrictive financing plan put into place when Purcellville bought Fireman’s Field from the Fire Department – threatened its future as a grand public space. Would the area ever be turned over to development? – no; it is in conservation easement. But, was Fireman’s Field losing its historic luster and its ability to be economically viable? – yes.
Mayor Fraser Calls the Question
In a move that many early detractors saw as risking Fireman’s Field’s future as a public space, Purcellville Mayor Kwasi Fraser tasked Council Member Ryan Cool with finding a market-based solution to the Fireman’s Field dilemma.
By any measure – including the opportunity to bring to bear both the expertise and celebrity of people like Alexander, Play To Win CEO Chris Bourassa, and ECHO – the new partnership has generated a great deal of excitement, raising expectations of what Fireman’s Field might become.
A new pavilion and scoreboard have recently been added. In addition, under the new arrangement:
The income-producing value of the property will be greatly enhanced, establishing a regular, self-sustaining revenue stream and reducing the burden on taxpayers.
The Town’s relationship with high-profile clients – including Upper Loudoun Football and Cannons Baseball – will be preserved.
The site will continue to serve as the venue for popular events such as the Loudoun Grown Expo and the Purcellville Food & Wine Festival; and other signature events will be added.
With Shaun Alexander Enterprises LLC taking the lead, the new Fireman’s Field management team will pool its expertise to dramatically improve and expand available programming at the site, with an emphasis on bringing in more opportunities for youth.
New signage and sponsorship opportunities – powered by the sports- and community-connections of Alexander and others – will provide a regular funding stream for ongoing maintenance and capital improvements.
The Town will receive an annual revenue stream with a percentage share of profits.
A Market-Based Approach
Council Member Cool himself was personally invested in crafting a truly innovative solution to the unrealized income, deteriorating infrastructure, antiquated funding structure, and inadequate programming plaguing Fireman’s Field.
“My goal,” he said, was “to look back in five, 10, 15 years, and be able to say, ‘Wow, the changes they made at Fireman’s Field had a really positive impact.’ “ Cool continued: “I believe that people are going to be beyond impressed with what we’ve created here. Fireman’s Field is a historical treasure and needs to be treated like one. In the past, people were satisfied with putting a plaque in place … and walking away. We are going to make Fireman’s Field better – in every way.”
Cool also emphasized the open and collaborative nature of the process that led to the awarding of the contract to Alexander, Play To Win, and ECHO. “I did not do this on my own,” Cool said. “Before we ever went into negotiations, I had each Town department’s input – finance, public works, maintenance, and legal.” Cool also engaged with the stakeholder of the easement, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. The state agency ensures the facility maintains its historical significance.
Some people were wary of taking such a dramatically different management approach to such an important place, noted Cool, who, while expecting resistance to change, always believed the opportunity was “going to be fantastic from a Town team perspective.” “I fully respected the detractors,” he said, “but I also see this was very positive for the community. I am pleased to see that many citizens who voiced early opposition have actually looked at the plan and are now supporting it.”
Cool also is very excited about the team that has been awarded the contract. “They are in the community,” he said, and “They get what we are saying about preservation.” Citing Alexander’s connections to Purcellville, Cool continued: “People who know Shaun Alexander, see him on the cover of magazines … why did he move to Purcellville? Because he sees what we have here. He’s family-oriented – and not just in it to make a buck. And, the fact that he is partnering with two other capable and well-known people and organizations makes it even better. They know what we like and cherish as part of our culture, and understand our desire to really focus on our youth.”
Cool also referred to the last Town-wide election, and the rumor that Fireman’s Field was going to be sold off at some point. This, he said, was never going to happen. “Fireman’s Field was never going to get demolished. It was structurally unsafe, and needed repair. But, we needed to have control over what happened to Fireman’s Field. And, guess what, we’re going to control it, and we’re going to make money on it, bringing activities into the center of Town.”
Shaun Alexander – Personality Combined with Real Expertise
Shaun Alexander is well known – not as a small-town home-schooling dad and businessman – but as one of the most celebrated football running backs of all time: a USA Today high school All-American whose jersey number was retired before he had even graduated; a year-after-year record breaker in the NFL.
Alexander has lived in Purcellville since he left the Redskins in 2008. He and his wife Valerie are raising and homeschooling their eight children here, following their dream to make small town Virginia the center of their family life.
Alexander has said that his own background coming from a small town in Kentucky informs everything he does, including the Fireman’s Field opportunity. “It is an honor to manage the historic Fireman’s Field. From the time that my wife and I moved to Purcellville, we wanted to be a part of a town that reminded us of home.”
Play To Win CEO Chris Bourassa, whose company manages three other area sports-related enterprises –in Leesburg, Annandale, and Woodbridge – is equally enthusiastic about the Fireman’s Field opportunity. “There’s this jewel here that every municipality in the Commonwealth of Virginia would love to have,” said Bourassa. “This is a special place. Our team has a lot of ideas. We think it’s a win-win.”