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Sources: New arena in the works to replace Coliseum

Michael Schwartz June 27, 2017 33


A 7-acre plot houses the city-owned Coliseum.(Kieran McQuilkin)

An effort led by one of the region’s biggest corporate heavyweights appears to be taking aim at the ailing Richmond Coliseum.

A group of investors led by Dominion Energy CEO Tom Farrell is said to be backing and gaining momentum on a plan for a new arena downtown to replace the aging Coliseum, as well as potential redevelopment of surrounding properties, including remnants of the long-dormant 6th Street Marketplace and Blues Armory property.

According to sources with knowledge of the effort, the project is still in planning stages but is slated to be announced in the coming weeks.

Sources said Dominion looks to play a big role in the process, eyeing naming rights for the new arena as it has done with other venues such as Dominion Arts Center.

The company has secured a website domain for the potential endeavor, purchasing through an affiliate the rights to DominionEnergyArena.com. Online records show the affiliate registered the domain Feb. 6, the same day Dominion announced its plans to rebrand from Dominion Resources to Dominion Energy.

In addition to the 6th Street Marketplace property, for which the city has been working to gain clear title, other related improvements could include construction of a hotel that would serve both the new arena and the neighboring Greater Richmond Convention Center.

Other properties potentially in play include surrounding buildings and parking decks owned by the city’s public works department (see map below).

A spokesman for the investor group declined to comment. Dominion spokesman Ryan Frazier did not return a request for comment on the company’s involvement.

The whole plan, should it materialize, could unlock for revitalization much of the acreage bound by North Fifth, East Marshall, North 10th and East Leigh streets.

The properties that could be included are all city-owned through various departments, and encompass about 17 acres, the largest chunk of which is 7 acres housing the city-owned Coliseum.

The project could include redeveloping the 6th Street Marketplace and Blues Armory property. (Kieran McQuilkin)

The project could include redeveloping the 6th Street Marketplace and Blues Armory property. (Michael Schwartz)

The future of that land depends on how closely, if at all, the group’s plan follows recommendations made in 2011 by consultants hired by Dominion, Altria, Genworth and MeadWestvaco, now WestRock, to study the feasibility of a new arena in the region.

That three-volume report recommended the best site for a new arena sits just east of the Coliseum on about 5 acres currently occupied by a city public safety building and parking lots between 8th and 10th.

The report proffered a 14,000- to 15,000-seat arena could be constructed on that site for $147 million in 2011 dollars.

In endorsing the construction of a new arena, the study – by Barret Sports Group, Populous Sports Architects and Weston Sports & Entertainment – found the Coliseum required “significant infrastructure improvements” and “lacks modern amenities/quality finishes.”

Constructed in 1971, the Coliseum has been derided in recent years for  interior issues such as leaks, in addition to its deteriorating exterior.

The 2011 report cited John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, which seats around 15,000, as the Coliseum’s most significant competition. It found that Richmond loses events to JPJ due to the Coliseum’s size and condition. It also found that promoters would prefer Richmond over Charlottesville. JPJ opened in 2006 at a cost of $131 million.

The Coliseum’s max capacity is around 13,000, but its configurations for most events lower that seating number by a few thousand.

The study cited potential interest from regular users for a new arena, including two minor league hockey groups, the WNBA, the NBA D-League, arena football, and concert and event promoters. It argued Richmond could land events such as NCAA tournaments and the collegiate conference basketball tournaments.

New regular users would be vital to any new arena, as revenue has been an issue for the Coliseum in recent years. A report from NBC12 earlier this year stated the arena has been operating at a loss since at least 2014, with a projected net operating loss for 2018 of $876,000.

City oversight of the Coliseum was transferred last month from the parks and recreation department to the city’s Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD).

Managed by public facility management giant SMG, the Coliseum’s regular acts have included arena racing, arena football and concerts. It was announced last week that rock band Foo Fighters will play the Coliseum later this year.

SMG’s contract on the Coliseum runs through 2018.

The properties that could be included encompass 17 acres. (Kieran McQuilkin)

The properties that could be included encompass 17 acres. (Kieran McQuilkin)

It is unclear how this latest effort would be financed, how much private and public money would be involved, and how city-owned properties might change hands to bring in private developers for surrounding properties.

Mayor Levar Stoney’s spokesman Jim Nolan said in an email Monday that “Mayor Stoney believes the Coliseum is a public asset that has become a public liability. It costs taxpayers more than $1.6 million a year, so it doesn’t surprise him that people are talking about it.”

For a contemporary example of how arena deals can be put together, a new $220 million, 18,000-capacity arena is in the works in Virginia Beach. That effort involves private investors putting down $70 million in equity and the rest in loans, with the promise of tax incentives back from the city.

At the time, the 2011 Richmond study said any effort for a new arena needed to include regional and corporate partners.

While Farrell and some of his peers may help provide the corporate piece of the puzzle, legislation passed in 2016 in the General Assembly could help smooth out the issue of regional cooperation.

A bill introduced last year by Del. G. Manoli Loupassi and signed into law by the governor would give the Richmond Metropolitan Transportation Authority the added power to acquire land for, construct, own and operate arenas in the region.

That power would come with the caveat that any such undertaking be approved by the mayor, Richmond City Council and the boards of supervisors for Henrico and Chesterfield counties. The RMTA, which operates the region’s tolled roads and previously operated The Diamond, is governed by those three localities.

In a phone interview last week, Loupassi said he wasn’t aware of any current plan for a new arena but was prompted to introduce the bill last year after “a person of very credible means and ability came to me and said this is something they were working on because they wanted to find out the feasibility and what the numbers would look like.”

“As former president of city council, I knew the Coliseum in its current state was not something we could continue to carry forever because it’s an obsolete building whose prime has passed,” he said. “I wanted to at least tee it up so they could be in the position to speak about it intelligently.”

Joi Taylor Dean, RMTA’s interim CEO, said the organization has not been involved in any conversations regarding an arena downtown.

“As we have been in the past, the RMTA stands ready to assist in projects that will help to move the region forward,” Dean said.

The arena plan is taking shape while the future of another major local venue recently took a step forward.

The Virginia ABC put out a request for proposals earlier this month for about a half million square feet of new office and warehouse space that could potentially replace its home near The Diamond, a move that could free up the agency’s current home for a new baseball stadium.

BizSense reporter Jonathan Spiers contributed to this report. 

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  1. Deon Hamner June 27, 2017 at 8:16 am - Reply

    I hope this happens. The city needs it. I believe the coliseum losses a million dollars a year. So this would be an economic boom to richmond.

  2. Patrick Sullivan June 27, 2017 at 8:24 am - Reply

    When can we buy our hockey session tickets?? 🙂

  3. Andy Kaplan June 27, 2017 at 9:03 am - Reply

    I will be happy to see the coliseum demolished. That has to be one of the ugliest buildings I’ve ever seen.

  4. Tim Vidra June 27, 2017 at 9:09 am - Reply

    I am good for 2 hockey season tickets! I am with Patrick when can we start purchasing tickets?

  5. Jonah Scharf June 27, 2017 at 12:39 pm - Reply

    I agree with many of the other commenters who point out just how ugly the Coliseum is. Although the stadium losing taxpayer money, public opposition to publicly funded stadiums is approaching an all-time high. Curious to see if this project goes the way of the Diamond, which seems like will never change.

  6. Charles York June 27, 2017 at 2:17 pm - Reply

    Now if they can learn from the Squirrels example and keep Aramark out of the new facility it might keep people coming back.

    I mean I enjoyed the 3 day old $4 hotdog at the Renegades games but I think most didn’t.

  7. Jeff Allums June 27, 2017 at 4:51 pm - Reply

    Can any other corporate utility monopoly please fund this besides Dominion..unless you want to give me a choice for power companies.. It would be nice if they could save me a buck or two versus spending it on naming rights.. Big banners at the Diamond.. Renaming to Dominion Energy… Okay we know you are our only choice for electricity.. Stop advertising please

    • Paul Hammond July 18, 2017 at 11:15 am - Reply

      I, for one, would be glad to see them turn some of their corporate profits into something substantive for Richmond. This would be a huge investment in the City.

  8. Samantha Battle June 27, 2017 at 4:59 pm - Reply

    I am glad someone beside myself recognize that the is needed for the city. I look out of the window at work and all I ever see is how ugly that building is. The sight distorts the entire scene of the city. The top has pealing paint and rust. It just looks really bad, especially for the capital of Virginia. Sad.

  9. James Jasp June 27, 2017 at 6:13 pm - Reply

    Jeff Allums Dominion Energy is not a utility but a diverse energy holding company that owns many different energy related businesses including some utilities. You shoul really get the facts somewhere close to correct before making such conments.

    • Eric Bickel June 28, 2017 at 3:37 pm - Reply

      James, please educate the class as to whom we can get electricity from other than Dominion?

      Once, you answer that question then I may do further research as to what else they have diversified themselves in as a company.

      Monopoly = no competition

      So unless there are people in the area keeping their lights on with coal or wood, kind of seems to be a monopoly.

      • CM Reynolds June 29, 2017 at 8:35 am - Reply

        Eric – it would be terribly inefficient to have multiple competing energy companies. Can you imagine having ten times as many power lines going everywhere all running parallel to each other? Suppose you were the only one in your neighborhood wanting electricity from a certain company — are they supposed to rig up an entire power grid (costing millions) just to accommodate you? With electricity and other utilities it makes sense to have a regulated monopoly due to high barriers to entry and economies of scale , in economics this is called a “natural monopoly.”

        • Jay Woods June 29, 2017 at 10:22 am - Reply

          I agree with you that having multiple competing utility companies would not work, but a better solution than what we have now would be a non-profit, state or multiple county-owned public utility company. Dominion, by nature of being for-profit, has to charged more to consumers than the cost of the electricity they are providing.

        • Eric Bickel June 29, 2017 at 2:23 pm - Reply

          CM: That is simply not accurate as other localities within the state of VA have options. Its called Electric Co-Ops, i.e. in Northern VA you have NOVEC and other parts of the state have Rappahannock Electric Co-Op. I negotiated right of ways and easements for years for the state.

          The same companies would all utilize the same polls or underground utilities.

          The fact of the matter is while the state can control the rates, etc. it would be nice to have alternatives in the central VA area.

          For example, we have multiple options for cable service, they use the same lines or have installed new via underground, so your example is not true as it can happen with other utilities. Overhead lines are just one way to get power, it can also be done underground.

          Monopolies of any type are damaging, whether natural or otherwise.

          Other cities have multiple options for electricity.

      • Mark Jones July 7, 2017 at 9:34 am - Reply

        I think the point here is that Dominion Energy Inc. is the “potential” arena supporter here.

        Dominion Virginia Power is a regulated utility owned by Dominion Energy, Inc. The utility, Dominion Virginia Power, not Dominion Energy, has regulated rates and returns in a “monopoly” type of setup with it’s own books and its own separate SEC filings. Dominion Virginia Power, the regulated utility, would likely not be allowed to spend money on supporting an arena.

        Dominion Energy, Inc. has various companies and business interests all over the country…some regulated utility, some not at all.

        Just trying to clarify the debate here, there are definitely some misinformed folks. Some Google searches, Moodys, sec.gov, yahoo finance or whatever you prefer can confirm this.

        • Eric Bickel July 10, 2017 at 3:24 pm - Reply


          This argument makes zero sense. Their core business is providing utilities and they are a Richmond based company. Doesn’t matter how much they diversify and file SEC fillings for this or that for various tax reasons, etc. This still does not change the fact they are the only provider of electricity in the Richmond based metro area, thus getting back to the fact they are a monopoly.

          Your argument is like saying Coke is the main company, but through it’s subsidiaries, etc. Coke Zero provides utilities.

          At the end of the day the profits still make it’s way to them, regardless.

          My point has been it would be nice to have alternates that could potentially reduce power costs.

          In New York for example, you have multiple choices for power. It would be awesome for us Richmonders to have options.

          Instead I keep seeing my rates go up and Dominion getting bigger and bigger.

  10. Frank Greenday June 27, 2017 at 6:19 pm - Reply

    If indeed they are thinking of replacing the old brown spaceship with a new 14,000 to 15,000 seat arena, don’t bother – it will already be obsolete as promoters of the biggest and best events will bypass such a limited capacity building. Clearly in this day and age you should build with the future in mind and the ability to compete with D.C. and Raleigh for NCAA events, major concerts, conventions, etc. A group headed by capital rich Dominion Energy needs to add something to the region that equals or beats it’s rivals – especially if Va Beach builds a 18,000 seat arena, it’s a no brainer.

  11. ron virgin June 28, 2017 at 9:02 am - Reply

    RVA salutes Jeff Allums. It fails the public’s interest to have a state-sanctioned monopolistic energy utility spearheading a massive redevelopment plan that doesn’t serve their core mission. Furthermore, the prospects of long-term success are bleak. Look no further than the nearly 100% failure rate of big, marquee projects in Richmond (downtown train station, canal walk, Center Stage, etc.). We don’t need this if the citizens are footing the bill.

  12. Ed Christina June 28, 2017 at 10:44 am - Reply

    Frank Greenday–Where do you get the 18000 figure?
    I don’t think the issue with the current place is just the size, its the lack of ability to handle modern acts. I recall in 1984 when Prince cancelled a show because the Coliseum could not handle his light show. But I’ll listen to supporting arguments.

    Ron Virgin-I recall the 6th street market as well, but i think the new factor has changed downtown-there are a lot of VCU students and young people living downtown compared to the days of all the failures , i think it will make a big difference. the projects you talked about where all going against the tide of population, and the tide has turned.

  13. Chris Diachok June 28, 2017 at 2:16 pm - Reply

    Ed Christina – “For a contemporary example of how arena deals can be put together, a new $220 million, 18,000-capacity arena is in the works in Virginia Beach.” From the article.

    Also hell yes. Please god. Get us a hockey team. I’ll buy season tickets the day a team is announced.

  14. Ed Christina June 30, 2017 at 9:37 am - Reply

    @ChrisDiachok – I suppose the point I didn’t make clearly enough was, why does the Arena in RVA have to be the same size as the one at the beach?

    RVA is smaller, so wouldn’t a smaller arena be a better fit?

    Isn’t it better to sell out a small place then not sell out a larger one?

    What is the “critical mass” size for an arena to be a top flight place that can attract the big names?

    One thing I hope is factored in, there should be opportunities for local small businesses to profit from events there.

    It should be designed to be a part OF the city, not APART from the city.

    Also, I hope Mayor Stoney does a better job for the city than the last admin did with the Redskin’s training camp, as far as what concessions they have to make.

  15. Justin Fritch July 3, 2017 at 1:10 am - Reply

    @Ed Christina – While Hampton Roads is larger (1.7 mil) it is also served by 3 arenas (VA Beach, Norfolk and Hampton) where Richmond, at 73% of the population (1.3 mil) has only one and is better centralized to pick up other markets. Given that, I could see a well-marketed comparable arena being possible, especially if tiny Charlottesville (230k) can successfully run a 15.5k arena. Sadly, the studies from 2 years ago were aimed around 12k and more basketball focused.

  16. Doug Goodwyn July 11, 2017 at 10:02 am - Reply

    So let me understand. We don’t want the taxpayers footing the bill for a new Coliseum but we also don’t want big companies like Dominion sponsoring the construction of a new Coliseum so they can slap their name on it.

    If this is the attitude, leave the current Coliseum in place.

  17. Brian Ezzelle July 11, 2017 at 11:29 am - Reply

    Doug, you seem to not be able to see the difference between regulated utility companies and companies that operate in a free and open competitive market. Dominion has basically no completion to provide electrical power and operates as a state regulated monopolistic utility. So why do they need to spend $$$ promoting their brand, etc by building coliseums, etc? Shouldn’t they be using those excess funds to reduce the power rates for their customers?

    • Matt Faris July 12, 2017 at 7:37 am - Reply

      Brian, Dominion is planning to purchase naming rights – which can be sold to anyone. The CEO is part of the group building it, NOT Dominion (frequently overlooked). The naming rights can and will ultimately go to the highest bidder. Arenas and stadiums change names all the time. (Think of the amphitheater in Bristow: Jiffy Lube and Nissan; and VaBeach: Veterans Home Loan followed Farm Bureau and Verizon)

      • Brian Ezzelle July 12, 2017 at 11:49 am - Reply

        Matt, Verizon Wireless could pay to get naming rights to differentiate itself from its completion such as AT&T, T Mobile, etc. Jiffy Lube to differentiate itself from its completion in the auto service industry.

        Can you please tell me who the completion is that Dominion needs to spend $$$ on so as to differentiate itself against?

        • Matt Faris July 13, 2017 at 12:31 pm - Reply

          Brian, I agree on your reply regarding the my examples. I do think Dominion Energy is targeting outside areas just as many other energy companies do. I believe several While we are limited in electric supplier, DOM is in many areas of energy generation.. NRG and First Energy are companies that compete with DOM in the energy biz. They are the home stadiums for Houston and Cleveland.

        • Mark Jones July 14, 2017 at 10:08 am - Reply

          Eric I am sorry but you are missing a simple point. YES, Dominion VA Power is a monopoly utility. You are correct. However, the holding company, Dominion Energy, has large business interests in New England, PA, Utah, CA…many of them for-profit, competitive, NOT utility-regulated companies. It sounds like you seriously do not understand this legal business structure issue. The VA Utility will continue to recover the cost of providing electricity and receive a regulated return (profit) that the VA SCC says is ok. What Dominion Energy does with it’s profits is completely irrelevant to the VA utility stakeholders. Many older folks that were around when it was a single company, Virginia Electric & Power Co., are still lost on these facts and think that Dominion Energy is solely the state electric utility. Far from it.

    • Eric Bickel July 12, 2017 at 10:13 am - Reply

      Great point Brian, exactly it would be nice to for them to reinvest so that rates could be reduced.

      However, I just see them spending more on naming rights for a Coliseum and a Golf Tournament, etc.

      So, if they have no competition, why the need to have so many naming rights?

      • Mark Jones July 14, 2017 at 10:11 am - Reply

        Eric, Dominion Energy has a lot of competition and competitive businesses across the nation..some very, very big. They own our local utility Dominion Virginia Power….that company is not seeking naming rights. Not sure why you cant understand this but I guess you were around when a single company, Virginia Electric & Power Co., was our utility, and cant get your head around the current business structure.

        • Eric Bickel July 17, 2017 at 3:01 pm - Reply


          Sources said Dominion looks to play a big role in the process, eyeing naming rights for the new arena as it has done with other venues such as Dominion Arts Center.

          This is directly from the article above, Dominion Energy is Dominion VA Power, just like they were VEPCO before, they are all the same company.

          You are simply using name semantics, at the end of the day, it is a monopoly and instead of putting their name on everything they can, how about they focus on the consumer and lower the rates.

          But Dominion does not have to worry about the consumer in that regards because THEY have ZERO competition.

  18. Doug Goodwyn July 14, 2017 at 12:03 pm - Reply

    We could ask any company, not just Dominion Energy, why they are wasting money on naming arenas instead of lowering prices. So if we don’t want corporations involved but we also don’t want taxpayer money involved, shouldn’t we just leave the Coliseum as is?

  19. Denis Etonach July 18, 2017 at 7:59 am - Reply

    Ron Virgin, the jury is certainly still out on the Main Street Station renovation, but I don’t think you can call the Canal Walk and CenterStage “failures.” Both have contributed to the revitalization of of downtown. People want to live there, locate businesses there and visit there because the area feels vital and thriving.

    CenterStage has in particular been a contributor to the renaissance of the Grace Street area. There are new projects getting started every time I’m there, and part of that is the synergy and activity of CenterStage. A large residential development is slated for the parking lot across the street.

    As for the Canal Walk, the city was required to construct stormwater overflow drains. Since the city was going to have to do that anyway, city manager Robert Bobb advocated for reconstructing the historic canal and putting the stormwater drains in the bottom of the canals. When they need to be replaced, the streets won’t have to be dug up; instead, the canals just have to be drained.

    Instead of just getting some big drains underground that no one would ever know existed, citizens also got a beautiful public space that continues to (slowly) build with condos, businesses, tourism and foot traffic. With the Canal Walk and T-Pot Bridge (a big success story), we now have an unbroken pedestrian path from Manchester to Jamestown.

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