Council majority asks mayor to withdraw Navy Hill proposal

coliseum

A 7-acre plot houses the city-owned Coliseum. (BizSense file photo)

The same day project backers rolled out their latest endorsement with the promised return of minor-league hockey to Richmond, a majority of City Council called for Mayor Levar Stoney to withdraw his hotly debated Navy Hill plan, just weeks before an anticipated vote on the $1.5 billion development proposal.

At council’s regular meeting Monday, a resolution backed by five of its nine members was added to the agenda for introduction, formally requesting that Stoney withdraw his proposed Navy Hill ordinances and conduct a new process to request proposals for development of city-owned land beside and including the Richmond Coliseum.

The resolution, which goes to a council committee before it can be voted on, precedes an anticipated deciding vote in which seven council votes would be needed to approve the project. A draft of the resolution obtained Monday by BizSense listed four members as patrons: Kristen Larson, Kim Gray, Stephanie Lynch and Vice President Chris Hilbert.

An aerial rendering of the proposed new arena. (Courtesy navyhillrva.com)

A statement from Navy Hill developer NH District Corp., distributed just prior to the start of the 6 p.m. meeting, listed council member Reva Trammell among the resolution’s supporters. Trammell’s name was said to have been added to the resolution ahead of the meeting.

“It’s unfortunate that instead of looking for ways to improve the Navy Hill proposal, these Councilmembers are putting their heads in the sand and hoping that the City’s problems resolve themselves,” the statement read in part. “We proactively sought to sit down with each of these five members to ask them for their ideas, amendments and recommendations to make this the best possible deal for Richmond, to which they have offered nothing.”

A spokesman for Stoney did not respond to a request for comment.

RFP period ‘too short’

The resolution – posted before the meeting on Twitter by local freelance writer Jason Roop – lists several aspects of the project that the patrons take issue with, including that a version of the proposal was under development in the private sector and was known to the city prior to its formal request for proposals, or RFP, in 2017.

NHDC, a group of local business heavyweights led by Dominion Energy CEO Tom Farrell, was the sole respondent to the RFP – another point of contention listed in the resolution.

Dominion CEO Tom Farrell discussing the project last year. (BizSense file photo)

“…it is the sense of the Council that the 92-day period allowed for submission of responses to the Request for Proposals may have been too short for development of alternative proposals for such a large and complex project,” the document reads, adding that “…the uses identified in the (RFP) are modeled on the original private sector proposal…”

The resolution contends that a “recent planning process” specific to the area proposed for Navy Hill has yet to be completed, noting as well that the Richmond 300 master planning effort remains underway. It also says council never took a position on whether to demolish or rehab the now-shuttered Coliseum, which the project would replace with a newer, larger arena.

Other concerns include the project’s proposed tax-increment financing structure, in which real estate tax revenues from new development and increased assessments in a designated TIF district would be used to pay bonds for the new arena. The project previously called for an 80-block district covering much of downtown, but NHDC said the area could be reduced to 11 blocks with a proposed bill that would allow some state tax revenues to go toward the bonds.

The resolution notes that the city’s required minimum number of income-based housing units and a new GRTC transfer center were not included in the original proposal and were only added during negotiations with the city. It also notes that the city did not have an appraisal of the city-owned parcels completed prior to completing negotiations, among other points listed.

Mayor Levar Stoney at the official project announcement in 2018. (BizSense file photo)

The resolution asks that Stoney’s administration complete a plan of the Navy Hill area, conduct an appraisal of the parcels, and assess existing and required infrastructure before initiating a new RFP process. It also calls for more transparency through “robust, citywide public input,” that the RFP process allow for the area to be developed by multiple developers, and for participation from other localities in the region if a new arena is pursued, among other points made.

‘Could discredit’ city’s business reputation

NHDC’s statement, which refers to the resolution as originating from council members Larson and Gray, contends that it “could discredit the City of Richmond’s business reputation for years to come – attempting to upturn a two-year long, public request-for-proposals (RFP) process even before a professional review of the plan is complete.”

“…Just as the Council’s Navy Hill Advisory Commission worked hard – it’s time for these Councilmembers to do the people’s work, because we are not going to withdraw this community benefit-driven proposal or start over,” the statement reads. “The project has been under unprecedented scrutiny for the past six months – and we have engaged residents in hundreds of civic meetings and briefings and dozens of Advisory Commission meetings, Council work sessions and public hearings. No City process has ever been this transparent.”

As currently proposed, Navy Hill would consist of a 17,500-seat arena, a 541-room Hyatt Regency hotel, 2,000 market-rate apartments, an initial 280 income-based housing units with potential for more, renovated Blues Armory building, GRTC transfer center, and additional retail, office and city-use buildings.

The project would be kickstarted with $900 million in private investment that is projected to total $1.3 billion upon completion of the project. The development agreement put forth by the mayor and now under review by City Council requires NHDC to show the $900 million has been secured before the city can pursue a bond sale to finance the arena, projected to cost $235 million and planned to be the largest in Virginia.

In recent weeks, NHDC has announced several endorsements and commitments to the project, including CoStar’s agreeing to fill one of the project’s office buildings.

A rendering of the Costar-anchored office building planned beside the new arena. (Courtesy NH District Corp.)

Monday morning, it announced a new team with the AA East Coast Hockey League would play at the new arena – signaling a return of the sport to Richmond that local hockey fans have been lobbying for for years.

Fred Festa, a recently retired chemicals executive who owned ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits from 2012 to 2018, said at a press conference outside the Coliseum that he’s prepared to make a multimillion-dollar investment to start a Richmond team, which he said ECHL has endorsed. Local nonprofit Sports Backers also threw its support behind Navy Hill at the announcement.

In a statement put out at the close of Monday’s meeting, council member Larson said of the resolution, “We do not take this step lightly, however we believe that there are numerous substantial reasons for Council to take appropriate action in response to the many public concerns that have been expressed about this project.

“…We recognize and appreciate the hard work and substantial time that has been spent on the creation and review of the current ordinances,” Larson’s statement said. “However, for all of the reasons stated previously, we believe that now is the time to ‘hit the reset button,’ take a deep breath, and commit ourselves to a review process that is open, fair and equitable.”

Council has said it plans to vote to decide Navy Hill by the end of February.

BizSense reporter Mike Platania contributed to this report.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
22 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Ashley Smith
Ashley Smith
8 months ago

Great piece, thank you for the transparency and listing some of the major flaws with this proposed development.

Thank you to City Council for hearing your constituents despite NH spending so much on marketing in recent weeks.

THIS is real democracy!

Phil De'Burn
Phil De'Burn
8 months ago
Reply to  Ashley Smith

Thank you for speaking up for the silent majority. Many of us are afraid to openly express our negative opinions of this project without fear of personal and professional retaliation.

James Gait
James Gait
8 months ago
Reply to  Ashley Smith

I don’t think this is how Democracy works. The vast majority of people I know still haven’t made up their minds about the project.

Additionally, it was just a very vocal few who got their way.

And considering how many times I heard the city was going to pay “a billion dollars out of our taxes” and that the city was going to “give Dominion hundreds of millions of dollars” it sounds like the only people who were untruthful and non-transparent were the anti-NH development crowd which constantly spread misinformation.

karl hott
karl hott
8 months ago

Rule #1…you have to offer transparency if you want public support. The Navy Hill proposal was a colossal waste of time that never had the public’s interest at heart. Our mayor embraced it as his vanity/legacy project for lack of proposing or accomplishing much else during his tenure. For once I’m proud that our city council didn’t cave to investors offering false promises. This is a monumental bellwether moment for Richmond government.

Justin Fritch
Justin Fritch
8 months ago
Reply to  karl hott

Public support never exists for projects that require city effort here. Too many citizens are still thinking that we are the Richmond of 80’s and 90’s and cry 6th Marketplace (even though this project corrects some of the past mistakes), THE SCHOOLS (regardless if tax money is involved) and “but muh roads”! While at times legitimate, these are constantly used as cop-out arguments by the uninformed. Unfortunately, without a major city investment, the Diamond will continue to deteriorate, the coliseum and Blue’s Armory will rot, the street grid will remain disconnected, and a large section of downtown will remain underutilized… Read more »

Denis Etonach
Denis Etonach
8 months ago

Really? There is no way for for City Council to work with the various parties to address their concerns in the one proposal for a serious Navy Hill project? They can’t wait and get the additional information that they themselves requested from the consultant? Solving problems requires collaboration and negotiation. I hope we don’t look back on this as a massive lost opportunity.

They should, of course, vote as they think best and best represents their constituents. However, this seems like demanding a divorce without even going to counseling.

Bert Hapablap
Bert Hapablap
8 months ago
Reply to  Denis Etonach

The problem is their constituents aren’t happy about any amount of money going to this project when schools and city infrastructure continue to be sub-par for a city our size. There is probably also the ghost of Six Street Marketplace creating hesitancy among council members. Hopefully they can work through the issues without scraping the entire project as that alone flushes tons of money in research and development down the drain.

Justin Fritch
Justin Fritch
8 months ago
Reply to  Bert Hapablap

Sadly true. Unfortunately, many constituents use those subjects as scapegoats against all projects. Despite all of the headway we are making, the schools and infrastructure will never be considered enough and ditching this project will not result in any additional funding for either.

Michael Dodson
Michael Dodson
8 months ago
Reply to  Justin Fritch

And doing this project as proposed WILL tie up funds for 7-10 years until, if its numbers work, revenue would actually start being received after paying on the bonds. Under this project as planned another generation of kids in starting in RPS will see no benefits before the graduate. And we need to stop with 6th Street. Main Street Station Mall, Broad Street CDA, UCI Bike Race were is the millions from these projects. Remember UCI was going to make money and create long term events to make us a cycling town……..and Stone Brewing was to create jobs for LMI… Read more »

David Humphrey
David Humphrey
8 months ago
Reply to  Michael Dodson

Guess what? When this goes away there still won’t be any new money in 7-10 years for schools because by then they will be issuing the 4th RFP for this land and the Diamond will still be sitting where it is and rotting.

Justin Fritch
Justin Fritch
8 months ago
Reply to  Michael Dodson

The UCI Bike Race was about marketing, not immediate returns. As someone who travels often internationally, I can tell you that people are actually familiar with Richmond now, compared to years prior, and cite the races.

Tricia Dunlap
Tricia Dunlap
8 months ago

If we want ensure that business leaders avoid the City, then this is the way to do it. I am so disappointed in these five Council members who have, apparently, ignored all the attempts to address the substantive objections and simply want to pull the plug. Those who object to having only one response to the original RFP will no doubt be even more disappointed when no one bothers submitting a response to a second RFP. As a business owner and City resident, I’m very disappointed. I thought Richmond had shaken its long-time unofficial motto “Tradition, unhampered by progress.” Apparently… Read more »

Justin Fritch
Justin Fritch
8 months ago
Reply to  Tricia Dunlap

Unfortunately, Richmond has only done as well as it has despite the city government and with help from the state. If it were not for the resurgence of cities in America, Richmond would still be on its long downward spiral of the 90’s. It is amazing that, while we are approaching the prior peak population after decades of decline, we are losing major amenities (unless you really like drinking).

Fred Squire
Fred Squire
8 months ago
Reply to  Tricia Dunlap

That’s all you are disappointed in is the 5 council members? Do you think they may be repeating what their voters are telling them? As a city taxpayer I am constantly disappointed in the high amount of taxes that I pay to subsidize this circus that is City Hall. My main voice was my councilman who I emailed when we had our alley wash away for the 5th time, etc etc. No one else is available to the taxpayer/voter to listen. Continue to be mad at the 5 council members if that makes you feel better as to the root… Read more »

David Humphrey
David Humphrey
8 months ago

Go all the way back to the beginning? Did anyone else notice that date of 2017? This is just another example why nothing can get done in the City. It is another example of why businesses keep going out to the Counties. It is why the Diamond has been limping along on the Boulevard for the last 20 years. The Squirrels should cut their losses and move now. I feel like this is just some members of council being too afraid to actually vote against it. This would essentially kill it without them having to vote on it. I don’t… Read more »

Michael Dodson
Michael Dodson
8 months ago
Reply to  David Humphrey

David I agree let us see the numbers/reports ordered by Council but how can the vote moye forward. What is TIF size; that is still in the GA and I think it will fail but how do vote when the pieces are still ever moving. On the Diamond, a regional plan proposed in 2000 for redesigning the stadium was killed by City Manager/business leaders as they wanted a new stadium by the river. Wilder nixed it and tried the bottom but it went nowhere due to financing. Rebkee’s plan for the Diamond site that was killed by Mayor Jones in… Read more »

Chris Crews
Chris Crews
8 months ago

IMHO the biggest issue has been the lack of transparency (coupled, of course, with the “My way or the highway” attitude of Navy Hill). There was no proper RFP proffered. Redevelopment downtown would be fantastic. On that most agree. But how do you shoehorn the Dominion Towers into a TIF district to fund a development blocks and blocks away, when the Tower owners are both pushing the project and funding it? “We’ll build your shiny thing. But first you need to do us a favor, though…” I’m reminded of an experience a few years ago. Rebuilding/Moving the Diamond was a… Read more »

Gary Huff
Gary Huff
8 months ago

Can the City Council make proposals to improve the schools and infrastructure? I am asking because I truly do not know. Are there any proposals outstanding on improving the schools and infrastructure?

Erik Summers
Erik Summers
8 months ago
Reply to  Gary Huff

Second this… How about we work on improving the local schools so anyone living in the Greater Metro area won’t have to send their children to private schools? Or perhaps continue establishing the future of the already existing baseball team/stadium? Doesn’t make much sense to bring another sports team to the city while there are ongoing opportunities for the enrichment of Squirrel’s franchise, VCU sports, etc.

Zach Davis
Zach Davis
8 months ago

I’ve ridden Pulse probably 8-10 times, and I don’t think there were ever less than 5-10 people on my bus at once. And a few times it was basically full.

Justin Fritch
Justin Fritch
8 months ago

As a semi-regular rider who now only drives twice a week and has switched to frequenting businesses along the Pulse route, I can tell you that the new service has been very successful. So successful that they are expanding service and increasing capacity (peak times are absolutely packed). Despite the sad news of Comfort (they are working on other ventures), restaurants and businesses are opening along the corridor along with many new, denser developments.

Kevin Randesi
Kevin Randesi
8 months ago

Development is needed downtown, but the Navy Hill concept needs to be re-worked – specifically the coliseum part. The coliseum, that needs to be privatized with some sort of business venture building/owning/operating the coliseum instead of the city of Richmond. If privatized, there would be a lot more events coming to Richmond, the building can be taxed for city revenues, the events will bring in tax revenues (lots of them too), and the city of Richmond wouldn’t have to raise/pay back hundreds of millions to build it, upkeep it, etc. That would be a win-win deal for all involved. One… Read more »