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Council goes extra innings, bunts stadium plan forward

Burl Rolett February 25, 2014 7
The city will be responsible for demolishing the Diamond if and when a new ballpark is built.

The city will be responsible for demolishing the Diamond if and when a new ballpark is built.

Baseball in Shockoe Bottom got a big boost Monday night from City Council, but the plan is still far from crossing home plate.

In front of a packed house of supporters and opponents at a five-hour marathon meeting, the council voted 6-3 to allow development negotiations to move forward on Mayor Dwight Jones’s plan to build a $200 million baseball-centric mixed-use development in Shockoe Bottom.

The decision is a first public step in favor of the plan, although many of the council members who voted in favor of the resolution framed their decisions as an attempt to gather more information ahead of a final vote.

“I will be unequivocally clear that tonight’s decision does not equate to my overall support of the proposal,” First District Councilman Jon Baliles said Monday night.

Mayor Dwight Jones presenting the plan in November.

Mayor Dwight Jones presenting the plan in November.

Council members Cynthia Newbille, Charles Samuels and Baliles each offered amendments to the resolution at Monday’s meeting. Newbille asked that all funding necessary for the proposed slavery heritage site and museum from both private and public sources be fully committed before the development package could move forward.

Baliles added a sentence that would require developers to secure their commitments to the project by backing it up with “performance bonds, personal guarantees or other comparable and sufficient security,” in an attempt to lessen the taxpayers burden if the development plan were to go awry.

Samuels proposed amendments to strengthen the proposal Baliles put forward and asked for a full archaeological study of the development site, an updated traffic study and a clear development proposal for Boulevard redevelopment before any shovels took to Shockoe Bottom. The mayor’s plan hinges largely on potential development of Boulevard on and around the site of the Diamond.

The amendments put forward by Newbille and Baliles were passed. The Samuels amendments did not, and their failure lost Monday’s resolution the support of the Second District councilman and city council president.

“We’re leaving an awful lot to chance right now,” Samuels said. “And I have grave concerns.”

Council members had remained largely neutral on the topic ahead of Monday’s vote. Both the Land Use Housing & Transportation Standing Committee and the Finance & Economic Development Standing Committee previously passed on Monday’s resolution to the council without offering a recommendation.

A fourth amendment passed that fixed what the council characterized as a clerical error. The amendment raised the threshold of the taxable value that must be created by residential development north of Broad Street in Shockoe Bottom from $51 million to almost $77 million.

A rendering of the planned stadium and development. (Courtesy of the City of Richmond)

A rendering of the planned stadium and development. (Courtesy of the City of Richmond)

Last night’s decision will allow the city to further negotiate the mechanics of the project with the full roster of developers the mayor has tabbed for building out the Bottom. The mayor’s camp will come back to council by March 27 with more concrete development agreements to submit for up or down approval.

Final approval will require at least six and possibly seven votes in favor from council depending on how the final agreements are structured. A sale of city-owned land requires a seven-vote supermajority from City Council.

Council members Parker Agelasto and Reva Trammell joined Samuels in opposition of the resolution. Trammell called for a public referendum on the project, and Agelasto argued that development in the Bottom will happen with or without baseball.

Agelasto also expressed concerns about how a ballpark project should be prioritized alongside other potential expenditures, noting that the financing the ballpark would put a significant dent in the city’s borrowing capacity.

The Shockoe Bottom baseball plan has met resistance since the day of its announcement, and opposition reached a fever pitch at last night’s council meeting. City Council extended the time allotted for public comment on the resolution to one hour each for those in support and those in opposition of the plan. Both sides took all their allotted time and then some.

Richmond has been wrangling with baseball in the Bottom ever since Mayor Jones announced his plan at a November press conference from atop the planned stadium’s home plate. The event was also the debut of the Venture Richmond-powered Loving RVA stadium advocacy campaign.

A rendering of the proposed development. (Courtesy of the City of Richmond)

A rendering of the proposed development. (Courtesy of the City of Richmond)

The full development includes hundreds of new apartments, a Hyatt hotel to be built on top of a Kroger grocery store and a heritage site to commemorate Richmond’s ties to slavery. The entire package, which also included infrastructure upgrades in the Shockoe Bottom floodplain, would cost the city about $80 million.

At its Feb. 10 meeting, City Council committed $5 million toward building the heritage site regardless of whether the ballpark plan succeeds. Mayor Jones has pushed the remainder of the development as an all-or-nothing scenario.

Monday’s resolution also called for permits for a potential project to be issued no later than Aug. 1. Council will have the full slate of proposals, including potential lease agreements and contracts for land purchase by next month, which will give the body only a few months to review the plans before reaching a final decision.

“We’re looking at a June vote,” Samuels said.

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7 Comments »

  1. Wes Atyeh February 25, 2014 at 9:06 am - Reply

    This is a bad decision by the City, it members and for RVA. The last thing the City needs is an $80M bill for a stadium that is used 5 months out of the year in an area that is difficult at best to get to. The best thing about this plan is the Kroger store, which is needed in the downtown area for the future growth of urban living.

    Maybe another idea would be to remove the Coliseum and rebuild a multi purpose facility large enough to host baseball, NCAA Basketball, other sporting events and concerts while tying it into the Richmond Convention Center for added floor space. That way the building can be used year round, we get rid of an eye sore in our City while getting a better return Investment.

    But then again we are talking about a City that thought 6th Street Market place was the next up and coming shopping mall. Hopefully history will not repeat itself this time.

    Good luck!

  2. Will Willis February 25, 2014 at 10:37 am - Reply

    This is a great move for Richmond also the stadium will be used by both the Flying Squirrels and VCU so we would get revenue and rent from both teams which is a win win. Also the overall marketability and presentation of Richmond would be so much improved with a downtown stadium, hotel, apartments, museum, grocery store and redone 17th street Market. They will create a whole new revitalization downtown in the Bottom. With improved roads, security, parking, lifestyle and revenue. This will only be the beginning of something great for Richmond. With The Bottom development, Rockets Landing and the River Front Development Richmond will be taking a huge step forward for a greater future.

  3. Karl Hott February 25, 2014 at 10:51 am - Reply

    5 reasons to oppose Richmond’s $80M investment in the Shockoe Bottom ballpark:

    1) 6th Street Marketplace
    2) The convention center expansion
    3) The Canal Walk
    4) Center Stage complex
    5) Rehabilitation of Main Street Station

    Richmond’s track record of sizable city-sponsored urban renewal projects is nearly 100% failure. Instead of allowing 9 popularly-elected people with questionable business & economic backgrounds (i.e. preachers, “community activists”, etc.) make this decision, allow the voters to make the call with a referendum.

  4. Matt Dolan February 25, 2014 at 12:42 pm - Reply

    With the gigantic exception of Reva Trammel I think City Council, both those for and against, did a solid job last night. Their comments were logical and thoughtful and the amendments were on the mark and smart.

    Yes, Sixth Street Marketplace was a mistake. That does not mean the city administration should as a result sit on their hands and never attempt to improve this city again. That logic is fatalistic, negative and counterproductive. We can never move forward with that type of losing attitude.

    We’ve got some good, smart folks on Council and on the Administration team. Let’s allow them to hash this out, get down to the details and make some transformational change which Boulevard and Shockoe desparately need. The Revitalize RVA plan at a high level is wonderful for the City; it’s the details of How that will determine its feasibilty. Council addressed the need for more detail with their comments and amendments, which was totally appropriate and encouraging.

    Give our City Leaders a chance! They’re doing the best they can. Be positive!!

  5. Larry Hedgepeth February 26, 2014 at 10:41 pm - Reply

    Are the Flying Squirrels buying into the City administration’s plans? Or are they secretly negotiating to build a ballpark in a multi-use development somewhere like Short Pump? Why did they recently add more minority owners with connections to Henrico developments?

  6. Scott Burger February 27, 2014 at 7:33 am - Reply

    We, the undersigned, stand in opposition to the Mayor’s Shockoe stadium proposal. There are many reasons to oppose a stadium in Shockoe Bottom: the questionable finances of the developers’ plan, parking, traffic, leaving the best and most accessible site for baseball in the city and disrespecting the incredible history of what once was the largest slave-trading district north of New Orleans. Some of us are county residents who do not want to travel into the Bottom for a baseball game.

    As long as the Shockoe stadium proposal is still a threat, from this point forward we promise to boycott the Flying Squirrels’ baseball games and other supporting businesses. This is not something we take lightly- many of us like the Flying Squirrels and recognize the harmful economic effect that this boycott will have. However, with the Mayor and proponents not allowing a referendum or citizens’ vote on the Shockoe stadium proposal, and in effect muting our political voice, we have decided it is time to exercise our economic voice.

    http://www.change.org/petitions/mayor-dwight-jones-we-are-boycotting-flying-squirrels-shockoe-stadium-proposal

  7. Ben Griffin February 27, 2014 at 8:33 am - Reply

    The I-95 interchange that the development will go in at is currently a wasteland that is barely producing any tax revenue whatsoever. What the Mayor & Co are planning should be a great boost to the shockoe bottom area and I am looking forward to it.

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