Cold Iron in Downtown Richmond

by Jon Baliles

The Free-Press Editorial page’s second at-bat this week also scored a hit with “No Hot Iron Here.” The piece calls out the Mayor for allowing the hot iron of development opportunity to cool to the disadvantage of the City. It mentions the selection of five teams that bid on the “City Center” development opportunity, which includes the demolition of the Coliseum, the refurbishing of the Blues Armory, as well as building a convention center hotel and ancillary development. That is all moving forward with a development process that it seems the Mayor and the City have finally realized is one worth repeating instead of plans like Navy Hill.

But the editorial focuses on the properties on the other side of Broad Street that hold (or held?) massive potential. They are the rarely mentioned properties and opportunities that would be big wins for downtown but have remained idle since the Mayor took office in 2017.

In the two years since the council killed the $1.5 billion Navy Hill deal, the Stoney administration has yet to issue requests for developers for city-owned surface parking lots at 6th and Grace streets and 4th and Broad streets. Both are south of Broad Street and already had active interest, and both have been ripe for activity while interest rates were still low, which is no longer the case.

Of course, those lots would have been turned over to Navy Hill developers (and the tax revenues would have gone to pay the arena debt, not to the City) but the Free Press is right in pointing out that since then, nada. The piece also mentions the surface lot at 6th and Broad Street that the Richmond Performing Arts Alliance was supposed to sell and become new development, a requirement that has seemingly been dropped (and/or ignored) by the Mayor. Another opportunity missed? One could wonder why and what we are waiting on.

And the Free-Press concludes with:

So, instead of multiple developments taking place, the Stoney administration has waited until interest rates soar and development begins to contract to get the Coliseum blocks going. But nothing else. Once again, City Hall has preferred to keep silent, and City Council has declined to ask questions. Well done, all.

This column by former Richmond City Councilman Jon Baliles first appeared in RVA 5×5 and is republished with permission.