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Flying Squirrels throw out first offer on new ballpark

Ownership of the Richmond Flying Squirrels throw out the first offer for financial backing of a new ballpark in Richmond, but it's clear city and county officials aren't ready to even begin discussing specifics.

Ownership of the Richmond Flying Squirrels (Class AA; Eastern League) throw out the first offer for financial backing of a new ballpark in Richmond, but it's clear city and county officials aren't ready to even begin discussing specifics.

Lou DiBella says the team would be willing to put up a quarter or a fifth of the costs of a new ballpark, depending on what municipalities are participating in the project. He then admitted no one in government is ready to discuss new ballpark.

Not a surprise. Richmond-area officials have grappled for years over the location and funding of a new ballpark; former Mayor Doug Wilder threw out a few locations closer to downtown, including one in the city's trendy Shockoe Bottom district. And the current location of The Diamond, the Boulevard area, has been discussed as a possible ballpark site as well.

But coming up with a plan will be complicated, to be sure. The Diamond is owned and operated by the Richmond Metropolitan Authority (RMA), whose main public mission is providing mass transit in the region, with three area countries contributing annually to the ballpark and RMA. DiBella proposes two counties — Henrico and Chesterfield — and the city of Richmond coming up with the rest of the construction budget. (A third county, Hanover County, could be a financial player as well.) And reps from those municipalities say they're in no hurry to replace The Diamond, even though they see the need to do so.

Richmond has put off serious ballpark planning for years now. The success of the Flying Squirrels — attendance is at 6,373, or more than double what the Defenders drew last season in Norwich — proves the viability of Richmond as a baseball market, but it also is apparently breeding a little complacency among local elected officials: if the Flying Squirrels are leading the Eastern League in attendance and committed for three years (per DiBella's comments, not necessarily the lease) to the market, then what's the hurry? The Richmond Braves (Class AAA; International League( played hardball and the city lost baseball, but so far local municipalities are holding all the cards.

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