Lou DiBella, the Richmond Flying Squirrels (Class AA; Eastern League) managing partner who now looks like a genius after almost losing his team and then moving it to The Diamond, says it’s now time to talk new ballpark — and Richmond officials agree.
There’s no doubt that all sides consider The Diamond to be a temporary facility for the Flying Squirrels; the team signed a two-year lease before this season because it didn’t want to make a long-term commitment to the ballpark; the game plan was to come in, invest in the ballpark (to the tune of $2 million) and show Richmond the team was for real.
It worked: the Flying Squirrels clearly caught the imagination of the community, leading the Eastern League in attendance. And that seems to have impressed Richmond city leaders, who now are talking favorably about public funding of a new ballpark. That’s a departure from past years, when internal squabbling over a proposed ballpark for the Richmond Braves (Class AAA; International League) caused that team to leave.
Of course, it helps that a new mayor — Dwight Jones, replacing Doug Wilder — is a little more realistic about the situation. Wilder was always pitching schemes that at their core were actually peripheral to the actual business of baseball, and as a result his schemes went nowhere.
Right now we’re told the most likely solution is a new ballpark at the current Diamond site, on land controlled by the Richmond Metropolitan Authority; it has good freeway access and there’s lot of land in the area. The variables are the extent of the project — the nearby Richmond Coliseum is in sore need of upgrades and repairs — and the public commitment to the project. A new ballpark would be built on existing Diamond parking, while The Diamond would be torn down for parking once the new ballpark is completed. There’s also some talk of an entertainment district as part of the mix, serving both baseball and Coliseum attendees; a study on the future of the Boulevard is due out this month, and that will likely fuel the parameters of the discussion.
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