RVA 5×5: Calling Earl Weaver

by Jon Baliles

There are not many other cities in the country that would debate plans for multiple baseball stadiums in multiple locations over multiple decades and then, after seemingly signing off on a new stadium, roll over after being told by Major League Baseball that public monies must be spent for a batting cage in a stadium that has two years of life left in it.

But hey, this is Richmond, and that is apparently what will happen in the coming months. According to Jonathan Spiers at Richmond BizSense, “For the Richmond Flying Squirrels to be able to play this spring, Major League Baseball is requiring that the city-owned Diamond be upgraded — at a cost of $3.5 million – to meet certain standards for pro baseball facilities. In addition to repairs to the concrete structure’s roof and supports, MLB is requiring construction of a second batting and hitting tunnel as well as renovations to both team locker rooms.”

The City has clearly been sitting on this news and has already filed the permits;  the work will begin ASAP, as the season starts in just over one month. The concrete supports most definitely need looking after and refurbishment; they are old and dangerous; there was a close call when a chunk fell off of one support about 15 years ago and could have seriously injured someone. I try never to sit under one of them when I go to a game; you just never know.

Spiers writes, “The city’s lease with Navigators Baseball LP, the entity that owns the Flying Squirrels ball club, requires periodic inspections of The Diamond’s structural integrity, according to a staff report explaining the funding request.”

I would not list a batting cage as integral to structural integrity, and Spiers notes the cage is expected to cost “$1 million; heat pumps and duct work for the locker room renovations at $400,000; and plumbing upgrades for the locker rooms at $300,000.”

Don’t get me wrong — the facilities at the stadium are the absolute pits and have been for a long time. The Squirrels have done what they can to make it functional. And, I assume the batting cage will transfer to the new stadium. It has been said that the lighting, the scoreboard, many of the newer seats, and some other equipment will make the short journey to the new confines. But the story does not make that clear and neither did the City or its new overlord, Major League Baseball (which now calls the shots for all of Minor League Baseball).

The article goes on to point out that the City is still “finalizing definitive agreements for the Diamond District project” and the new stadium, and that while minimum terms were agreed to last fall, “final agreements that would include a land sale for the project’s first phase still need to be introduced and approved by City Council before work on the new stadium can begin. It’s unclear when the agreements will be introduced. In a presentation Monday about planning initiatives that mentioned the Diamond District, city staff told the Planning Commission that work on the agreements continues.”

That could be a little concerning since MLB is ordering the City to implement these expensive changes and, the article notes, a ballpark should take about 24 months to complete. MLB has said the stadium needs to be ready by April 2025 and, as Spiers mentions, “construction would theoretically need to start next month.” That clearly will not happen since Council hasn’t seen or approved the agreements and the City must still create the community development authority (CDA), which would issue the bonds to help finance the project. It’s not a long process to create a CDA but you have to do it before you start digging and issue bonds. Henrico recently created a CDA for their Green City Project.

I always assumed that as long as construction of the stadium was clearly underway, it would be OK with the powers-that-be (MLB) — even if the stadium were to open mid-season. Hartford, Connecticut, for example, opened its stadium a year late and significantly over budget, but it didn’t move the team out. It’s not unusual at all for stadiums in any sport to open late (hello, Tottenham fans?)

It’s just a shame MLB is throwing around its weight like an umpire in need of an optometrist. We could use an Earl Weaver, Sr. to make it clear we still have a voice.

Jon Baliles is a former Richmond City Councilman. This is an excerpt from the original article posted on his blog, RVA 5×5. It is posted here with permission.