Mayor Dwight Jones has made his ceremonial first pitch for a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom, and local developers have more than $100 million in nearby projects on deck.
Jones on Monday unveiled plans for a more than $200 million ballpark village development slated to include 750 apartments, a hotel, a Kroger grocery store and a slavery museum site, all centered around a new baseball stadium for the Richmond Flying Squirrels.
“All of these economic projects have been secured with letters of intent,” Jones said of the nine-figure combined private and public investment. “This is not wishful thinking.”
The announcement, which came at a news conference at the Weiman’s Bakery property at Grace and 17th streets, puts an end to the long-running debate over where to build a new baseball stadium – at least as far as the mayor and the Squirrels are concerned.
Jones’s announcement also made public for the first time the local developers that are ready to play ball downtown.
Home plate in the new stadium would sit on what is now a gravel lot at the former Weiman’s Bakery, a half-acre property considered a lynchpin for a ballpark development when developers David White and Louis Salomonsky bought it this spring.
White said he originally planned to build a hotel at the site but will end up selling the half-acre plot to make way for stadium construction.
“It turned out that the ballpark plans were farther along than a lot of people anticipated,” White said about the Weiman’s property purchase. “We certainly didn’t want to stand in the way.”
White and his son Brian have signed on to build 750 apartment units in the ballpark area. Plans call for two complexes adjacent to the stadium totaling 200 units to the east and south, and another 550 apartments north of Broad Street. White said that anticipated construction costs top $70 million and that he hopes to deliver the first units in April 2016.
McFarlane Partners, headed by Charles McFarlane, will develop a roughly 120-room hotel at the north edge of Broad Street at the corner of 17th Street. The company is a franchisee of the Marriott, Hampton and Hyatt brands. McFarlane will be applying for a franchise agreement with Hyatt for the project and estimated a total investment of between $20 million and $24 million.
A 65,000-square-foot Kroger supermarket is slated for the hotel’s ground floor.
Fenton Childers, Kroger’s head of real estate for Virginia, estimated the grocer would pay about $12 million for the new store.
“It’s a little unusual for us … certainly we are not in many high-density urban settings like this,” he said, adding that Kroger has eyed a Shockoe Bottom location for several years.
Speaking Monday from a podium where the new stadium’s home plate would eventually sit, Jones said the Shockoe Bottom location presents the best return on a new ballpark investment, which would cost the city almost $80 million for ballpark construction, infrastructure improvements, land acquisition and a contribution for the Slavery and Freedom Heritage Site.
Jones said the Shockoe Bottom complex, which stretches from a parking deck near Clay Street to a revamped 17th Street Farmers Market on the northern end of Main Street, would create about $10 million in revenue for the city each year.
The other alternative that was considered – a new stadium on Boulevard – would create annual revenue between $5 million and $6 million, Jones said.
“Clearly this is the best plan for the taxpayers,” he said. “We have made the decision, and we move forward from this place.”
Jones also introduced plans for the Slavery and Freedom Heritage Site, promising $30 million will be raised for a museum at the former Lumpkin’s Slave Jail that will recognize Shockoe Bottom’s history as a hub of the slave trade in the 19th century. Capital One will have some involvement in that funding, although the mayor didn’t expound on that arrangement.
The plan to build the ballpark on and near former slave trade sites brought a group of about 70 protesters to the mayor’s press conference. They chanted “No stadium on sacred ground” during the event.
Phil Wilayto, one of the protest’s organizers, offered an alternative development proposal focused on the neighborhood’s history, saying that a historic district with parks and a larger learning center and museum would be a bigger draw for tourists outside of Richmond. He called the Slavery and Freedom Heritage Site a “token museum.”
“The majority of African American people in the U.S. can trace some heritage to Shockoe Bottom,” he said. “It is morally inappropriate to play baseball on a site of a massive atrocity.”
The long-anticipated announcement comes almost a month after a trio of ordinances that will allow the city to take ownership of the Diamond on Boulevard began moving through the city’s planning committee.
The city council later this month will likely approve ordinances allowing the city to take nine-acre site the Diamond sits on from the Richmond Metropolitan Authority. The RMA was granted the stadium’s land on North Boulevard by the city in 1984 with an agreement that the property would revert to the city if a new ballpark were constructed.
The transfer will give the city control of about 55 acres between North Boulevard, Heritage Road and Robin Hood Road. The city is moving out of vehicle maintenance and storage facilities near the Diamond, as the site has been tabbed for a potential mixed-use development if a ballpark were built in place of the Diamond or elsewhere in the city.