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DiBella to Richmond: Commit to new ballpark, or we move

Richmond Flying SquirrelsRichmond Flying Squirrels (Class AA; Eastern League) President Lou DiBella says it’s time for the city to commit to a new ballpark; otherwise, he’ll look to move the team. UPDATED!

In fact, he’s even brought up the possibility of a move with MiLB President Pat O’Conner, though he’s come short of actually seeking permission to seek a new home for the team.

DiBella moved the team from Norwich to Richmond in September 2009, brought in some high-powered front office personnel in the form of Chuck Domino and Todd “Parney” Parnell, and invested $2.5 million in upgrades to The Diamond. He did all this, he says, because he was promised a new ballpark by Richmond officials. In fact, he’s rather specific that the promise was to have a new ballpark by the 2013 season.

Two years later, and no new ballpark is on the horizon. There’s a plan in place to build a new ballpark in The Diamond parking lot, but there’s no funding agreement, and certainly 2013 is out of the questions for any new facility to come on-line. (Indeed, city officials have been rather upfront in saying their target date is 2015.) While it’s true the city is closer to a new ballpark than any time in years (remember all the wacky Doug Wilder plans for ballparks in odd places?), the fact that there’s no agreement in place is obviously rankling DiBella. And hence his talk about relocating the franchise yet again.

Joe McEacharn, Eastern League president, echoed the frustration in his comments to the Richmond Times-Dispatch: “I think everybody is well aware that we did not make the commitment that we did with the understanding that we would be playing at The Diamond and pouring resources into it for five or six additional years.”

Despite the talk of a move, there’s no doubt the Flying Squirrels have been successful in Richmond, and they may not have as much leverage as DiBella thinks. The team led the Eastern League in attendance with 6,626 fans per in 2010 and were up slightly in 2011, averaging 6,679 fans per game, so crying poverty isn’t effective. And if DiBella walks away from Richmond, that market is lost to affiliated baseball: we’re relatively certain Peter Kirk and the independent Atlantic League would be happy to sign a lease for The Diamond in its present condition for the amount the Flying Squirrels are paying on a lease: $150,000 or so per season. If DiBella is floating the notion of a move in order to spur action from Richmond officials, that’s one thing — but it’s bad policy to make a threat and not be serious about acting on it.

UPDATE: Apparently DiBella struck a nerve or three in Richmond, pulling back fast from any talk of a move. Here’s a statement issued by the team this afternoon:

“The Flying Squirrels will continue to provide the quality of baseball, entertainment and community impact that the Greater Richmond area has grown to expect from us. We are not actively looking to other locations at this time, but we have always maintained that our long term success is dependent upon a new facility that  our terrific Front Office Staff can maximize for the benefit of the entire metro region. We believe that the RMA and its’ stakeholders share this same desire and that we will collectively work towards accomplishing this common goal sooner rather than later.

“The Flying Squirrels are proud to represent the City of Richmond and it is our goal to continue that for years and years to come.”

RELATED STORIES: Budget issues postpone Squirrels ballpark to 2015 at the earliest; New Richmond ballpark by 2014?; DiBella: Time to start talking new ballpark; Flying Squirrels throw out first offer on new ballpark; Baseball returns to Richmond’s Diamond — but for how long?; Baseball returns to Richmond tonight; Flying Squirrels unveil uniform designs; Flying Squirrels unveil logo, color schemes; Richmond contest yields another dreadful name; Five finalists for Richmond team name announced


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