Rao hints at VCU’s interest in ABC site next to Diamond

Aerial shot of the ABC Hermitage Road site. (Michael Schwartz)

As the Richmond Flying Squirrels prepare for opening day and the Virginia ABC grows closer to moving its headquarters to Hanover County, VCU appears to have shown at least part of the hand it is playing in the bid for a new baseball stadium in the city.

University President Michael Rao gave a report last Friday to the school’s Board of Visitors, during which he pulled up a slide with a big circle drawn around ABC’s headquarters at 2901 Hermitage Road while discussing possible plans for future athletic facilities.

The 20-acre site property has been discussed as a potential location for a new baseball stadium to replace the Diamond. Although Rao’s presentation did not offer any specifics about VCU’s plans, it appears to be one of the first times the school has publicly hinted at its interest in the site.

The visual Rao used was pulled from a 2018 BizSense report about ABC’s move potentially freeing up the land for a stadium.

Rao discussed possible plans for future athletic facilities last week. (Mike Platania)

VCU spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

The university’s interest in a new baseball stadium was further corroborated by its “One VCU” master plan, which the Board of Visitors approved the same day Rao gave his report.

The master plan said that VCU Athletics conducted its own planning study to “relocate and consolidate facilities,” and that an off-campus site “will accommodate a new tennis center, practice fields, a baseball stadium and field house.”

The master plan, which is a nonbinding framework for projects VCU may pursue in the future, does not list an address or specific site in regards to a baseball facility, nor does it include the same slide that Rao used in his presentation.

VCU Baseball shares The Diamond with the Richmond Flying Squirrels, the Double A Eastern League affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. The Flying Squirrels open their season April 4 against the Hartford Yard Goats.

VCU Baseball shares The Diamond with the Richmond Flying Squirrels. (BizSense file photo)

VCU and the Flying Squirrels reportedly have had their eye on a new shared venue since at least 2016, when the two signed a “memorandum of understanding,” expressing their joint interest in building a $50 million to $60 million stadium near The Diamond. The two sides never disclosed an exact site, although numerous news reports since have showed the ABC property to be a preferred option.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported in January that the state budget awaiting Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature gives VCU the first right of refusal to acquire the Hermitage site once ABC vacates. The state-owned property most recently was assessed by the city at nearly $16 million.

The booze regulator is aiming to leave its Hermitage home by 2021 for a newly constructed facility on over 100 acres of land owned by Bill Goodwin’s Riverstone Properties in Hanover. Riverstone is seeking to rezone that land. Hanover’s Planning Commission is set to vote on the matter at its April 18 meeting.

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