Diamond District developer selection looms as talks with finalists continue

The 60-plus acres are bordered by Arthur Ashe Boulevard, Hermitage Road, the interstate and the railroad tracks. (BizSense file images)

A decision has yet to be made on a Diamond District developer, but resentments about the project among some Richmond City Council members were on full display at their meeting Monday.

After an update from staff that did not include an announcement of a preferred Diamond District development team, councilmembers weighed in on the mixed-use project in light of past economic development efforts that have not proven successful – namely, Navy Hill and a casino in the Southside.

Michael Jones and Reva Trammell, whose districts are south of the river, bemoaned what they described as a lack of support and agreement among their peers for those projects, revealing in doing so resentments going into their review of the planned redevelopment project that’s to include a new baseball stadium to replace The Diamond.

“There could be two economic development deals going on right now,” Jones said, referring to the Richmond Coliseum-centered Navy Hill plan and the proposed One Casino + Resort that city voters rejected last year.

Councilmember Michael Jones. (BizSense file photo)

“It would have been great for this to be the third major economic development deal to happen in this city,” Jones said. “I’m just one to remind us of that, of what we allowed to slip through this council’s control. We could have dramatically changed the upward mobility of this entire region. But we missed that opportunity, and we can’t let that go unheralded.”

Suggesting that the Diamond District project would likely involve tax increment financing as was proposed for Navy Hill, Jones added, “As we look at a TIF, remember that because we didn’t like somebody — because we didn’t like the mayor, because we didn’t like the CEO of a particular company — these deals did not happen and go through.”

Added Trammell, whose Eighth District would have hosted the casino, “I say my colleagues failed me. Some of my colleagues failed my people.”

Referring to the Diamond District, Trammell said: “My people are going to raise hell over this. People in Southside, they’re going to raise hell. They tell me, ‘Don’t support anything that’s across the river, because they hurt us over here.’”

The comments prompted responses from the rest of the council, who described the circumstances as different while also advocating for more economic development projects across the whole city.

“The casino was an option, but what’s before us is a chance to look at ‘what else,’” said Andreas Addison.

“It’s not just being upset about what we failed to pass before. We failed a lot of things,” Addison said, citing Sixth Street Marketplace and the Stone Brewing deal. “But we’re never going to get out of this hole we’re in without making some decisions, so let’s go forward and see what we can do together.”

While the Diamond District project does not require unanimity among the council, the project’s approval does require a seven-vote supermajority — meaning no more than two members of the nine-member council could vote against it for the project to go forward as proposed by the city administration.

Administrators have said they were aiming to present their proposal with their preferred development team by the end of this month. At Monday’s meeting, project manager Maritza Pechin said an announcement would be made “very soon,” while Leonard Sledge, the city’s economic development director, kept the timeframe ambiguous.

The area that makes up the Diamond District includes the namesake baseball stadium and nearby Sports Backers Stadium.

Asked if they could expect a decision in August, Sledge remained noncommittal, noting that negotiations continue with the three finalist teams.

“I would hate to give a firm date knowing there’s still work to be done,” Sledge said.

A delay could tighten an already tight timeline that the city is aiming to meet. To deliver a new stadium by the 2025 season — the deadline set by Major League Baseball for all pro venues to comply with new facility standards — developers vying for the project have said construction would need to start in the first quarter of next year.

The remaining teams vying for the project are: Richmond Community Development Partners, led by Machete Group, JMA Ventures and Tryline Capital; RVA Diamond Partners, led by Republic Properties Corp., Thalhimer Realty Partners and Loop Capital; and Vision300 Partners, led by Freehold Capital Management with members including Brookfield Properties and Hourigan.

Their proposals, submitted in June, are being reviewed by the project’s evaluation panel, which will make a recommendation to Mayor Levar Stoney and share it with the council. The panel consists of city administrators, councilmembers and an official with VCU, which owns the Sports Backers Stadium property that’s part of the otherwise city-owned development site.

Sledge said the city continues to negotiate with the three finalist teams. Outside consultants assisting with the process include national planning firm AECOM and Richmond-based Davenport & Co.

A final development agreement or contract would then be presented to the council, which would need a seven-vote supermajority to approve it.

Ann-Frances Lambert, one of the two councilmembers on the panel along with Katherine Jordan, called for her colleagues to support the project.

“This is something good that we need for the city of Richmond,” Lambert said. “Being a native daughter to this city, I’m tired of saying no. It’s time for us to say yes, and let’s bring some more development here to the city of Richmond.”

Stephanie Lynch said the circumstances surrounding the Diamond District are different than that of past proposals. She credited Sledge, Pechin and other newer additions to the administration for contributing to that.

“It’s just a whole different ballgame that is being played here in the city,” Lynch said. “We’re just in a different environment, and we have to take a moment to celebrate that. Not to say that there isn’t work to do, but I’m also very excited at the work ahead and very proud of the work that has been done on this particular project and the projects in the last two years.”

Added Council President Cynthia Newbille, “I hear the concern Ms. Trammell and Councilman Jones have verbalized, but I also am really clear that we need multiple economic development projects across the city footprint, and I mean the entire city. It’s not either or; it’s across the entire footprint in order for us to have the kind of revenue reality we are looking for.”

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Jim Jones
Jim Jones
13 days ago

The council never ceases to amaze me with their consent fighting amongst themselves. Maybe one day they will look at the whole picture and get things done, only then will folks come back to the city.

Brett Themore
Brett Themore
13 days ago

“Added Trammell, whose Eighth District would have hosted the casino, “I say my colleagues failed me. Some of my colleagues failed my people.””… Ms Trammell, if I recall, the casino was voted down by the people, not council? Am I missing something? Your people failed you not Council, maybe talk to them more.

Justin Fritch
Justin Fritch
13 days ago
Reply to  Brett Themore

While her comments are reprehensible, her district did overwhelming vote for the casino project while being voted down in wealthier neighborhoods across the river.

Allan Taylor
Allan Taylor
13 days ago

As a southsider, this infuriates me. Trying to deprive the city of economic development because you didn’t get your little pet project is laughable. The city voted against it, yet Stoney and these council members seem to think they’re above democracy.

Debbie Rowe
Debbie Rowe
13 days ago

Chesterfield gets LEGO’s 1BILLION $$ manufacturing plant and Richmond chases a 600-mil predatory gambling casino with hourly hospitality jobs. The LEGO plant will be just 20 miles from the proposed casino location. Councilor’s Trammell and Jones frustration should be with the city’s econ development team for letting this opportunity pass by. The casino fails on every metric by comparison with LEGO…fewer jobs, lower hourly wages, and less overall revenue. We deserve Better!

Michael P Morgan-Dodson
Michael P Morgan-Dodson
12 days ago
Reply to  Debbie Rowe

Exactly!

Derek Woolwine
Derek Woolwine
13 days ago

More petty antics by council members who will put their own “pride” ahead of the Richmond citizens. Shameful they didn’t approve Navy Hill, and shameful to hear a council member(s) basically talk about retribution.

Michael P Morgan-Dodson
Michael P Morgan-Dodson
12 days ago

Article fails to mention that Council is OFF in August. Unless they do an emergency meeting for the intro and decision on an agreement go on the docket after Labor Day and will be in committees for 30-45 days (and if the member want district/citizen meetings more like 90 days) and then be back for a final vote on any agreement in October or November. Per the previous articles; they probably WON’T have a deal before the New Year let alone move any dirt. And even once the agreement is signed a TIF deal would involve some kind of entity… Read more »

Ashley Smith
Ashley Smith
12 days ago

Uh, Michael Jones, we don’t like those people because they are crooked and have attempted to broker deals that put most taxpayers footing the bill for wealthy developers.

We DO NOT want our tax money going towards increasing our cost of living, which is what happens when development comes in.

Is it really that hard to understand?

Justin Brees
Justin Brees
11 days ago
Reply to  Ashley Smith

Ashley are you against all development?

Justin W Ranson
Justin W Ranson
11 days ago
Reply to  Ashley Smith

On the flip side of that you have stagnation, which leads to corporate entities leaving the city, which leads to job losses, which leads to people leaving, which leads to empty office and residential space, which leads to blight. Development is the answer. Not more of the same. Not stagnation. Progress.

Jerome Legions
Jerome Legions
12 days ago

Hummm Didn’t I just read that there is very little floating construction days in order to meet the 2025 deadline. Maybe, just maybe the City can fast track the permit process. Maybe, just maybe the design work has already done and to whomever the project is awarded to is keeping the design work under wraps. What about the availability of labor and materials? What impact is this going to have on the deadline. I am the only person that the decision makers at MLB are paying attention and working on Plan B for the Flying Squirrels?

Michael P Morgan-Dodson
Michael P Morgan-Dodson
12 days ago
Reply to  Jerome Legions

In order to be ready for opening day 2025 they will HAVE TO BE under construction by June/June next year. Permits issued, dirt moving as even if you could build it in a year to have it ready in early May 2025 for use (and the Squirrels all moved in) it means the probably need it ready in Jan/Feb 2025 for occupancy. If you plan 18 months for construction plan review beginning to ending with a completed punch list means work needs to start late next spring / early summer. But city and any entity they set up will take… Read more »

Last edited 12 days ago by Michael P Morgan-Dodson
Matt Faris
Matt Faris
6 days ago
Reply to  Kevin Riley

Looks like the same date for first pitch (April 2025) butthey have already started grading the site! Richmond doesn’t even have the design selected yet!