Following weeks of work sessions, months of town hall meetings and hearings, and years of talk surrounding the project, Richmond City Council members can now see a light at the end of the Navy Hill tunnel.
At a committee meeting Monday evening, council formally received the final report from its appointed Navy Hill Development Advisory Commission, and laid out a timeline to conclude its own review of the $1.5 billion project. The process continues with a series of public hearings that starts tonight.
The timeline aims for a final vote on the proposal before March, according to a schedule announced by council President Cynthia Newbille.
“We have a timeline before us, with completion by the end of February,” Newbille said Monday after detailing steps to be taken in the meantime.
With the advisory commission’s review completed – its report generally giving a thumbs-down to the arena portion of the project, among other findings – those steps include:
• Council’s responses to that report, which Newbille asked members to submit by the end of this week;
• A closed session at council’s Jan. 13 meeting to compile a list of those responses, to be submitted to developer NH District Corp. (NHDC);
• A series of public hearings before council, to be held at 6 p.m. on Jan. 8 at Binford Middle School, Jan. 9 at Pine Camp Cultural Arts and Community Center, Jan. 14 at the Southside Community Services Center, Jan. 15 at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, and Jan. 16 in council chambers at City Hall;
• NHDC’s answers to council’s responses, which council is requesting from the developer by Jan. 20;
• Report from council’s hired third-party consultant Johnson Consulting, with initial report tentatively due Jan. 31 and a final presentation due Feb. 10;
• Further back-and-forth with NHDC, with council aiming for a final vote before March.
Advisory commission findings
Council spent most of the meeting going over the findings of the advisory commission, which presented its report after submitting it to council and posting it online Dec. 23.
A majority of the commission, according to the report, found that the publicly funded portion of the project – the proposed 17,500-seat arena that would replace the Coliseum and anchor the larger Navy Hill mixed-use development – would not be “a sound and reasonable public investment.”
While a majority supported using tax-increment financing to fund the arena, revenue from which would go toward paying off $300 million in bonds that the city would use to fund the facility, the commission determined that Navy Hill as a whole would pose a risk to the city’s general fund and public school funding.
The commission was mixed on other findings, such as the project’s impacts on other city programs and existing businesses. Members also took issue with the project’s tax district base value and revenue projections, development schedules and infrastructure cost estimates. A majority concluded the project’s overall costs have not been reasonably estimated, contending that more data is needed.
NHDC has provided additional information in response to the commission’s findings. Those documents and others related to Navy Hill have been compiled on the city’s website here.
The advisory commission started reviewing the project in October, with a series of mostly weekend meetings culminating in four public hearings that were held in mid-December.
Council has held work sessions during that time to conduct its own review, with members also inviting NHDC to present the project at respective constituent meetings. Mayor Levar Stoney, who supports the project, held his own series of town hall meetings in November.
Late last year, council hired Johnson Consulting, a Chicago-based real estate and hospitality consulting firm, to provide a third-party analysis of the project, while NHDC announced it has lined up venue management company Spectra to manage the new arena.
NHDC has continued to rally supporters, through emails and other means, to attend public hearings, contact council members and volunteer in support of the project. And this week, ChamberRVA, which has endorsed Navy Hill, launched a radio ad campaign promoting the project.
The latest developments follow a busy year for Navy Hill. A recap of the project’s news in 2019 can be found here.