Before Minor League Baseball approves the sale of the Connecticut Defenders to a Richmond group, officials want to see solid proof a new ballpark is indeed forthcoming — but that proof may prove to be elusive in the short term.
Before Minor League Baseball approves the sale of the Connecticut Defenders (Class AA; Eastern League) to a Richmond group, officials want to see solid proof a new ballpark is indeed forthcoming.
That may be more challenging than many think, as there are no solid plans in Richmond for a new ballpark. A Richmond group is proposing the purchase of the Defenders and a relocation to The Diamond for the 2010 season; a move to a new ballpark would come after that.
But a new Richmond ballpark is far from a done deal, and in fact it is more in doubt now than in past months. Last fall a developer proposed building a new ballpark in the city’s Shockoe Bottom district as part of a $363 million redevelopment. However, that offer was quickly revised by developer Highwoods Properties to move the responsibility of building and financing the ballpark to a city stadium authority, which could finance the ballpark with tax-increment financing.
Whether the city is ready to spend $60 million on a new ballpark is a big question: the city faces the same financial issues as other cities across the nation during these tough times, and diverting a new tax stream to a ballpark may not appeal to city officials. The entire Highwoods Properties project is still speculative: it has not been approved by the city, which has until Aug. 1 to work out an agreement with the developer. And community opposition to a new ballpark in Shockoe Bottom has already coalesced, and we’d expect more if a more tangible ballpark plan emerges.
So Minor League Baseball has some right to be concerned, but there’s always the very real chance MiLB will overplay its hand. A renovated Diamond, most recently the home of the Richmond Braves (Class AAA; International League), would serve nicely as home to an Eastern League team and cost Richmond taxpayers far less. It would also preserve Richmond as an affiliated market; we’re guessing Peter Kirk and the Atlantic League would love to swoop in and revive their new-ballpark plan should local officials decide affiliated baseball isn’t worth the fuss.
MiLB officials also say they’re working to bring in a NY-Penn League team to Norwich should the Defenders move, but that may also be a hard sell: we don’t see any franchises up for moving at this time. And Norwich may face a little competition: a group with MLB ties has been quietly exploring the possibility of bringing an affiliated team to Elmira, presumably to a new facility.
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