The fly ball that’s resulted from the years-long debate over moving or replacing The Diamond appears to be dropping toward the Boulevard – beyond the stadium’s fence.
But it’s not a home run, yet.
On Tuesday, a joint release from Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones, the Richmond Flying Squirrels and VCU Athletics announced the three parties are working together to identify a Boulevard-area location for a new ballpark near The Diamond, but off the city-owned land that Jones wants to see privately developed.
That land – 60 acres bounded by the Boulevard and Hermitage Road – has been eyed for years as prime real estate in the burgeoning Boulevard corridor that could give a boost to the city’s tax rolls. A city-commissioned report from a consultant, delivered to City Council on Monday, recommends a mixed-use development as the site’s highest and best use, according to the Times-Dispatch.
Other proposals for the site, such as one presented last December by a group of architects, developers and citizens called the Save The Diamond Committee, suggested a mixed-use development that incorporated the current stadium in it. The year before, Midlothian-based Rebkee Co. proposed a similar approach that would replace the stadium with a new ballpark.
But Tuesday’s announcement conveyed a commitment by the parties involved to identify a Boulevard site that is not the current ballpark site.
It did not identify prospective locations, and details such as funding remain unclear. The release said the project “would likely be funded primarily by the ballpark’s users,” and it said the three parties would report progress made to the public within 90 days. During that time, the city “would pursue a ‘request for qualifications’ from national real estate developers, engage regional partners, and continue public engagement to determine the long-term future of the Boulevard area.”
Citing unnamed sources, a Times-Dispatch report pointed to the nearby Virginia ABC distribution center as a likely location for a new ballpark. The 20-acre, state-owned site is across Hermitage Road from the city-owned land, which Jones, who has previously championed a new ballpark in Shockoe Bottom, maintains is more valuable to the city if developed.
“It’s vitally important that we find ways to generate maximum revenue to fund public schools and other services that a growing city needs,” Jones said in the release. “This approach opens a pathway for full development of the city’s most valuable land, provides the Squirrels and VCU baseball with a new home and keeps the ballpark in an area that Richmonders love.”
The release included comments from VCU Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin, who said The Diamond is not ideal for the future needs of the university’s baseball team, which plays at the ballpark under a sublease with the Squirrels. It also quoted Lou DiBella, the Squirrels’ president and managing general partner, who expressed hope for the effort.
“This new initiative may very well serve everyone’s interests, particularly the community’s, while allowing the Squirrels to stay in our hometown,” DiBella was quoted as saying. “It feels like we’re closer to a solution than ever before.”
The release added that Jones said the city intends to extend the Squirrels’ current lease for a second one-year extension, to Dec. 31, 2018, to “demonstrate the city’s commitment to a long term solution.”