Council goes extra innings, bunts stadium plan forward

The city will be responsible for demolishing the Diamond if and when a new ballpark is built.

The city will be responsible for demolishing the Diamond if and when a new ballpark is built.

Baseball in Shockoe Bottom got a big boost Monday night from City Council, but the plan is still far from crossing home plate.

In front of a packed house of supporters and opponents at a five-hour marathon meeting, the council voted 6-3 to allow development negotiations to move forward on Mayor Dwight Jones’s plan to build a $200 million baseball-centric mixed-use development in Shockoe Bottom.

The decision is a first public step in favor of the plan, although many of the council members who voted in favor of the resolution framed their decisions as an attempt to gather more information ahead of a final vote.

“I will be unequivocally clear that tonight’s decision does not equate to my overall support of the proposal,” First District Councilman Jon Baliles said Monday night.

Mayor Dwight Jones presenting the plan in November.

Mayor Dwight Jones presenting the plan in November.

Council members Cynthia Newbille, Charles Samuels and Baliles each offered amendments to the resolution at Monday’s meeting. Newbille asked that all funding necessary for the proposed slavery heritage site and museum from both private and public sources be fully committed before the development package could move forward.

Baliles added a sentence that would require developers to secure their commitments to the project by backing it up with “performance bonds, personal guarantees or other comparable and sufficient security,” in an attempt to lessen the taxpayers burden if the development plan were to go awry.

Samuels proposed amendments to strengthen the proposal Baliles put forward and asked for a full archaeological study of the development site, an updated traffic study and a clear development proposal for Boulevard redevelopment before any shovels took to Shockoe Bottom. The mayor’s plan hinges largely on potential development of Boulevard on and around the site of the Diamond.

The amendments put forward by Newbille and Baliles were passed. The Samuels amendments did not, and their failure lost Monday’s resolution the support of the Second District councilman and city council president.

“We’re leaving an awful lot to chance right now,” Samuels said. “And I have grave concerns.”

Council members had remained largely neutral on the topic ahead of Monday’s vote. Both the Land Use Housing & Transportation Standing Committee and the Finance & Economic Development Standing Committee previously passed on Monday’s resolution to the council without offering a recommendation.

A fourth amendment passed that fixed what the council characterized as a clerical error. The amendment raised the threshold of the taxable value that must be created by residential development north of Broad Street in Shockoe Bottom from $51 million to almost $77 million.

A rendering of the planned stadium and development. (Courtesy of the City of Richmond)

A rendering of the planned stadium and development. (Courtesy of the City of Richmond)

Last night’s decision will allow the city to further negotiate the mechanics of the project with the full roster of developers the mayor has tabbed for building out the Bottom. The mayor’s camp will come back to council by March 27 with more concrete development agreements to submit for up or down approval.

Final approval will require at least six and possibly seven votes in favor from council depending on how the final agreements are structured. A sale of city-owned land requires a seven-vote supermajority from City Council.

Council members Parker Agelasto and Reva Trammell joined Samuels in opposition of the resolution. Trammell called for a public referendum on the project, and Agelasto argued that development in the Bottom will happen with or without baseball.

Agelasto also expressed concerns about how a ballpark project should be prioritized alongside other potential expenditures, noting that the financing the ballpark would put a significant dent in the city’s borrowing capacity.

The Shockoe Bottom baseball plan has met resistance since the day of its announcement, and opposition reached a fever pitch at last night’s council meeting. City Council extended the time allotted for public comment on the resolution to one hour each for those in support and those in opposition of the plan. Both sides took all their allotted time and then some.

Richmond has been wrangling with baseball in the Bottom ever since Mayor Jones announced his plan at a November press conference from atop the planned stadium’s home plate. The event was also the debut of the Venture Richmond-powered Loving RVA stadium advocacy campaign.

A rendering of the proposed development. (Courtesy of the City of Richmond)

A rendering of the proposed development. (Courtesy of the City of Richmond)

The full development includes hundreds of new apartments, a Hyatt hotel to be built on top of a Kroger grocery store and a heritage site to commemorate Richmond’s ties to slavery. The entire package, which also included infrastructure upgrades in the Shockoe Bottom floodplain, would cost the city about $80 million.

At its Feb. 10 meeting, City Council committed $5 million toward building the heritage site regardless of whether the ballpark plan succeeds. Mayor Jones has pushed the remainder of the development as an all-or-nothing scenario.

Monday’s resolution also called for permits for a potential project to be issued no later than Aug. 1. Council will have the full slate of proposals, including potential lease agreements and contracts for land purchase by next month, which will give the body only a few months to review the plans before reaching a final decision.

“We’re looking at a June vote,” Samuels said.

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