Richmond Blows It

Wilder and city establishment strike out and lose Braves. Predicament shows just how hopelessly dysfunctional Richmond’s leadership really is.

Three years ago, I was sitting in the skyscraper office of a large Atlanta real estate firm listening to Thomas D. Bell Jr., CEO of the firm, talk about how Atlanta was trying to deal with its problems. Atlanta’s political and business officials had mobilized a regional task force to address the Dixie Dynamo’s major issues including clogged roads, dire shortages of drinking water, lack of affordable housing and uncontrolled sprawl.

I was there on assignment for a national business magazine and I was struck by how the Atlantans seemed to have it together. The Georgians don’t dither around about petty regional jealousies and the black-white playing cards. They seem to have gotten beyond those issues long ago. And while there are elements of Atlanta that I don’t go for, I appreciated their can-do attitude, realizing that this has made them the most important city in the Southeast.

How unlike Richmond, I realize. My current home town once was the capital of the South but that moniker proved very short lived. Both Richmond and Atlanta were largely destroyed by the Yankees but Atlanta roared back in ways that left Richmond in the dust.

And now, Atlanta has outflanked Richmond again. The Triple-A Richmond Braves have one season left to play here. They’re being herded out of town by their owner, the Atlanta Braves who got fed up with indecision and stupidity in Richmond. They got tired of having to kiss Mayor Doug Wilder’s behind again and again as he came up with screwball alternatives to renovate the badly-outdated Diamond, such as the hapless Fulton Gas Works. They got frustrated that no one else in Richmond’s establishment could break the ice and get Wilder off the dime. And, I guess, they got tired with the same old nonsense about how historic and wonderful Richmond is supposed to be when the truth is that it is a dysfunctional, leaderless place.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in love with the Atlanta Braves, whom I consider a rather bloodless crew. To be sure, there are limits to be put on public funding for the benefit of the huge and well-oiled corporation that owns the two Braves teams.

But the Diamond? Come on. The stadium, only 23 years old, is a shameless dump. The Atlanta Braves are correct to expect a lot better. Norfolk managed to build a beautiful, waterfront park. As for the Diamond, before my father died three years ago, he used to come up from North Carolina for the games he loved. He couldn’t walk that well. I don’t know if many of you have elderly parents or handicapped relatives, but have you ever tried using the elevator at the Diamond? It fits maybe four people, is very slow and has walls that are all put beaten out. Big lines form of people in wheelchairs or crutches waiting to fit in the tiny box.

So as Wilder’s typically abrasive personality prevailed, and no one else in the establishment had the guts to confront him, the Braves got frustrated over the acidic local politicking over various new stadium venues. They said, “screw it” and quietly began talking with officials of Gwinnett County, Ga., an Atlanta suburb in October. Commerce-minded Georgians don’t mess around and on Jan. 15, the Braves announced the new home for their Triple A team.

In Richmond, of course, Henrico and Chesterfield want to go their way and Richmond doesn’t know which way it wants to go on any number of important issues, from regional transit, to corporate recruitment, to growing disparity in incomes to controlling sprawl. Instead of taking meaningful action, the city and region hire the same old consultant who writes pretty much the same old report that they all read 15 years ago.

For baseball teams, Atlanta’s switcheroo follows a pattern that Major League Baseball teams are trying to locate their farm clubs closer to home. The relatively new Washington Nationals, their new DC stadium almost ready, have a Triple A club in Columbus, Ohio. It would be an extreme long shot if the team could move to Richmond. But it sure would be a great replacement and would follow the close-to-home trend. Of course, Wilder would have to be somehow kept on ice as Richmond proceeded with plans to rip down the Diamond and put a better stadium nearby.

I’d like that very much. Dad would have, too. After all the first game he ever took me to was Griffith Stadium, home of the Senators, back in the late 1950s. Now that was an old firetrap.

— Peter Galuszka

(Photo cutline: The Diamond, stadium of the Richmond Braves. Photo credit: Nationals Nation.)

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  1. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Peter, well said!

    Personally, I’m not persuaded that taxpayers should be asked to support stadiums for professional sports teams. Sports, after all, is just another form of entertainment. Why should it be privileged over theater, movie complexes, concerts or any other type of live event?

    On the other hand, Richmond’s community leaders clearly wanted to build a stadium and keep the Braves in town. The fact that they couldn’t pretty well symbolizes the inability to get much of anything done around here. God forbid that we try to tackle something complex like regional transportation or land use!

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    this could be an unmitigated disaster if the City fathers decide to get in a bidding war for the Kalahari Water Park.

    I understand a Mr. Provo is supposed to be meeting with them on this very issue…


  3. Michael Ryan Avatar
    Michael Ryan

    Maybe Richmond should set it’s sites a little lower – like for a AA team instead. Maybe we could charm away the Bowie Baysox. They currently play up in Prince George, MD.

  4. Spank That Donkey Avatar
    Spank That Donkey

    Richmond lost a Triple A Hockey Team known as the Robins, then Rifles, then Wildcats, then gone!

    I was but a wee tyke, but at the time the stuggling Robins (farm team to Caps and Flyers) asked Richmond to help out with lower rents at the Coliseum… none coming, the team and subsequent teams folded….

    Along with the Squires… say bye, bye to Julius Erving playing in town… That was Henry Marsh…. Doug Wilder… by far the better politician… has for whatever what reason completely screwed Richmond… with this debacle…

    We won’t know the inside politics for a while, but I bet it isn’t pretty…

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    I would rather the Braves stay, but I am not willing to be held hostage by them either. My taxes should be going for real priorities, not baseball stadiums. The arts and convention centers are bad enough. The unjust water rates are bad also. The urban forestry program is in desperate need and as we lose more trees, we will see more Battery Parks and flood/stormwater damage/costs. But the biggest priority for the City should be the school buildings. Right now the City is still not compliant with ADA laws. Equal access to a quality education must be a priority. The City has already been sued a few times for it. What’s it going to take? The National Guard coming, like in Little Rock fifty years ago? Spoiled sports corporations and myopic fans are the least of my worries.

  6. Unindicted Co-Conspirator Avatar
    Unindicted Co-Conspirator

    Richmond must get its basic government services in order before taking on any major public projects. Many smaller private enterprise projects are delayed by a building department that can’t get its inspections done in a timely manner. There is no shortage of small to medium size developers eager to build in the city. Their projects add to the tax base and quality of life in areas that need improvement. Get the small stuff right first.

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