New Richmond Stadium Plan Deserves a Close Look

The Diamond today

by James A. Bacon

A private development team has offered to build a new Richmond baseball stadium on the Boulevard without taxpayer dollars, the Times-Dispatch reported Wednesday. The developers, who include Chesterfield County Supervisor Daniel A. Gecker, a principle with Urban Development Associates, has presented an overview to City Council and the Jones administration.

“From what I have seen, this plan is real, and it’s ready to go save a few minor details,” Councilman Jonathan T. Baliles told the T-D.

It’s great that the city has an alternative to the proposed Shockoe Bottom development backed by Mayor Dwight C. Jones, which has a public cost of $79.6 million. But it’s too soon to reach to draw conclusions until details of the  plan are revealed. What we know so far:

Under the broad outlines of the proposal, and 8,000-plus capacity stadium would be built entirely with private money on about 10 acres of Boulevard land. … The first phase would involve a small amount of residential, retail and restaurant development. The developers also would have the option of building out the rest of the 60-acre Boulevard area that city officials believe is primed for revitalization.

“All the money is coming from the private sector,” said Robert S. “Bobby” Ukrop, who played a role in brokering the public-private partnership that built the Diamond, the aging baseball stadium on the Boulevard that needs replacing.

That’s great news, if true. But does “all the money” really mean all the money? A few obvious questions:

  • Will the private investors pay the City of Richmond fair market value for the land where development on the Diamond and neighboring properties would occur? Or will the city donate the land, an implicit subsidy?
  • Will the project be financed by tax-free Industrial Development Authority bonds? Would the issuance of such bonds impact, directly or indirectly, the strength of the city’s balance sheet?
  • Would construction of the ball park require construction of a parking deck? Will developers ask the city to issue bonds to build the parking deck?
  • Will the project require public spending on infrastructure like streets, sidewalks and utilities?

The Boulevard location, easily accessible from Interstate 95, is widely preferred in the region. An opinion poll last year found that 64% of respondents wanted Richmond baseball to stay on the Boulevard, where it has been for six decades. Furthermore, the loss of the stadium doesn’t mean that re-development of Shockoe Bottom won’t continue. I can’t imagine that Kroger and Hilton would make their investment in a grocery store and hotel respectively contingent upon the building of a ball club. The city still should be able to proceed with the Shockoe-redevelopment option.

The only big loser from the new proposal is the slavery museum, which would receive a massive subsidy from the city in the Shockoe alternative. As much as I would like to see such a facility built — I’d even donate a small sum — I don’t see a groundswell of support by people actually willing to put up their own money for the project. When I see someone creating an organization to begin raising money from the community, I’ll take the idea seriously. Until then, it’s  all hot air and politics.

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5 responses to “New Richmond Stadium Plan Deserves a Close Look”

  1. virginiagal2 Avatar

    I’d much rather see it stay on the Boulevard.

    Jim, what would actually have to happen to start a small slavery museum? Could a beginning of one be dedicated space in Main Street Station or some such?

    Maybe have something like the exhibit that the Science Museum had on race in America, which had artifacts, replicas of artifacts you could touch, exhibits, and a pretty good film? I thought it was well done, and it only took 2 or 3 rooms – enough for a display with a narrative flow, and a small area where you could watch a film.

    If they could work out a small start at MSS, have related exhibits at the science and art museums – maybe even other museums, provide maps and a walking tour – you could build a groundswell of support. People are interested. A separate museum building could be later, instead of a threshold that always seems to be out of reach.

    I don’t think it has to be big to be meaningful and affecting. “You are here where this happened” touches people. You just have to give them a narrative so they can understand . If there is enough traffic and interest, then the a separate building could come later, organically.

    1. One good place to start would be to convince Doug Wilder to close down what’s left of the Fredericksburg slavery museum and transfer the assets to Richmond. Then start talking to other museums in town — Va Historical Society, Museum of the Confederacy, etc. — to see what assets they might be willing to share. This town has plenty of potential to pull this off. But I don’t see soaking Richmond taxpayers to built a half-baked museum until there is significant buy-in from Wilder and the other museums.

  2. larryg Avatar

    The Fredericksburg Slave museum is no more.. gone, kaput, dead.

    but I agree with virginiagal2 and this – ” if you going to do something – do it well”

    we’re talking Slave Museum as if it’s come kind of “attraction”.

    Start out small but do it extremely well… and let word of mouth and reviews herald it.. as worth seeing while in Richmond… etc…

    The defunct Fburg museum wanted a full size slave ship mockup – 100 feet up from the river along side I-95.

    now the thing is – if Wilder could not use his name to help make the Fburg Museum succeed why does anyone think he could do any better in Richmond?

    1. virginiagal2 Avatar

      I agree re excellent. My concern, and I dont think I am expressing it well, is that keeping the original setting and tone – the sense of place – is very important in connecting people to historic events.

      I have never been so moved about history as when I visited Gettysburg. I cried twice. And my family, on both sides, back to before the war, was from what became the VA/WVA border, and most of them stayed on the VA side.

      Knowing what happened, actually being where it happened, and having things preserved so you can picture what happened, made an emotional connection that a museum alone, no matter how splendid, would not have.

      That’s why I think good markers are important – you are here where this happened – and why I’m very concerned about what you lose when you drop in a museum that looks like an elementary school circa 1975 and a baseball stadium. Sense of place is fragile. To me this is way too much like putting Wal-Mart in the middle of Wilderness.

      Preserving slave history should be treated with the same urgency as preserving battlefields.

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    A place to look is the Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati. That had the support of some serious executives from Procter & Gamble, not a gadfly politician.
    However, I wonder if DC might be a better place for a slavery museum or maybe New Orleans. The latter is a much bigger tourism draw than Richmond and was a bigger slave market.

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