Citizens and Law Makers Continue To Clash over Future RVA Baseball Stadium

by | Jan 30, 2014 | POLITICS

There’s been a buzz around town saying Richmond may build a new baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom for a while now. It began as the brainchild of Mayor Dwight Jones, and the Richmond City Council has shown flashes of support of the idea, but there’s still a ways to go before anything becomes concrete.

There’s been a buzz around town saying Richmond may build a new baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom for a while now. It began as the brainchild of Mayor Dwight Jones, and the Richmond City Council has shown flashes of support of the idea, but there’s still a ways to go before anything becomes concrete.

As for the public’s reaction, it’s been a highly volatile issue. Many citizens have come out to City Council meetings with picket signs displaying their disapproval of the idea. Others have gone to the podium to voice their support. Richmond City Council President Charles Samuels said he’s received more than 300 emails from citizens about the issues, and plans on responding to each one.

Those who bemoan the idea cite the lack of attendance at Flying Squirrels games, but David Hicks, the Senior Policy Advisor for the Mayor, said it’s about more than putting butts in seats.

“We do not call this a baseball plan. It is not. This a revitalize Richmond plan. This is an economic development plan that includes baseball. The reason is because part of this city’s greatest challenges are economics,” Hicks said in a public meeting held late last December.

Increasing revenue for the city seems to be of paramount importance to Richmond officials, and they believe Richmond stands to make much more money from a new stadium – as much as double the current amount made from The Diamond on Boulevard. And should there be a new stadium, they’re making sure the location of the current stadium wouldn’t fade into vacancy.

Earlier this month the Council voted unanimously to reclaim land immediately surrounding The Diamond, presumably for a new development on Boulevard after the Squirrels get a new home in the Bottom. Deleting The Diamond would open about 60 acres on Boulevard, and they believe a new development there could bring some life – and money — to the area.

“The opportunity on that particular land is too high to be utilized for something that doesn’t generate significant revenue and jobs,” Hicks said.

“I cannot imagine any scenario in which the city should utilize any portion of the Boulevard for anything non-revenue generating, especially if we build it all by ourselves.”

Last year, Mayor Jones cited Baltimore’s Camden Yards as an example of the positive economic impact a stadium can make on a city.

According to a Forbes report, Baltimoreans spent three times as much money at nearby shops and restaurants following Camden Yards’ inaugural season in 1992. That type of growth was obviously not sustainable, but Forbes claims Camden Yards has paid off long-term, and if not for it, Baltimore may have become a “ghost town.”

The argument Mayor Jones probably doesn’t want to hear comes from a University of Pennsylvania study. It claims that the immediate Baltimore area didn’t see very much long-term economic growth, and the issues of crime, poverty, and education persist in Baltimore.

A big disconnect between the Baltimore scenario years ago and Richmond’s plan now is that Baltimore is considerably larger than Richmond in terms of size and population. There are too many intrinsic elements in each city to claim whether or not Mayor Jones’ comparison carries any real merit.

However, Richmond officials are planning on more than just a stadium.

Jones’s plan would add a full-size Kroger, a Hyatt Hotel, a parking deck and more than 750 apartments in the potential stadium’s vicinity. All of these private entities would also supplement funding, so the cost of the project would not fall entirely on taxpayers.

Chuck Richardson, the prolific former councilor who’s done everything from chase down a purse-snatcher to serve time in prison for drug distribution, returned to City Hall on Monday to warn the council that promises of economic growth aren’t always bountiful.

“In 1980, we had an effort to revitalize downtown – the city was deteriorating, the retail core was almost gone, we had two stores left. Things were looking bleak,” Richardson said.

Richardson said the city bought out some land, ran some businesses out of town and did it all as a part of “Project 1,” their plan to save downtown. Richardson said that Mayor Jones is making all the same promises that were made in the 80’s.

“You don’t determine a project on its popularity or how much support you can rouse. You do it by looking at the numbers that add up. And the numbers we added up 25 years ago were wrong, and everything fell through. It was an absolute, unadulterated failure,” Richardson said.

Richardson said he’s a little ambivalent about the stadium, and that some aspects of it could be good. All the Council veteran said he wants is for the Council to do their due diligence.

“Our history shows that private-driven projects are much more successful than publicly financed ideas, dreams or illusions. I think the Mayor wants to be noted for someone who saved Richmond,” Richardson added.

Richardson was met with applause when he told the Council he fears Mayor Jones may be seeking personal recognition.

“How we operate as a council is a reflection of this city and these people. We’ve come too far to allow someone to set us back because he has a personal agenda that would allow him to become a hero,” Richardson said.

Another dominant concern, particularly of the public, is preserving Shockoe Bottom’s history.

Richmond was a major slave trading market in the 1800’s and houses a slave cemetery; many believe the city’s history, as deplorable as it may be, needs to be preserved. The Richmond Times-Dispatch said the area’s slave trade was so significant, it could be considered “the birthplace of black America.”

So what’s the status of the stadium right now?

On Monday, the Council voted to continue (move to a future meeting) a resolution which would explicitly express their support for Mayor Jones’s plan. By putting that resolution on pause, they’re buying themselves time to fully understand the public’s opinion.

“The council members are still hosting community meetings to see how the neighborhoods feel, to see how folks in their districts feel. We’re gonna work to make sure the citizens’ questions are answered,” Council President Samuels said.

Samuels said he thinks there are good and bad aspects to the plan, but hearing what his constituents have to say is still most important. He said, “There are probably as many opinions on it as there are people in my district.”

Samuels estimated Richmond’s about a month away from finally knowing whether or not Shockoe Bottom will be getting a stadium.

“I can’t speak for City Council on this, but I’ll tell you this: It looks like there’ll be a decision (by City Council) in early March. That’s my best guess right now.”

Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner

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