A $200-million proposal for a Richmond Flying Squirrels (Class AA; Eastern League) ballpark development will include a hotel, 750 apartment units and a Kroger store, under a plan to be unveiled by Mayor Dwight Jones today and already opposed by local activists.
Also part of the plan: a heritage site to commemorate one of the largest slave-trading sites in American history. From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:
The project carries an estimated public cost of $79.6 million, which would include the new home stadium for the Richmond Flying Squirrels and extensive public utility improvements in an area that has a long history of flooding.
“We’re excited about the future,” said Todd Parnell, the vice president and chief operating officer of the Flying Squirrels….
The new ballpark, which Jones is expected to liken to Baltimore’s Oriole Park, would hold 7,200 seats in a sunken bowl with a wraparound concourse and be flanked by apartment buildings. A promenade proposed for the current site of the 17th Street Farmers’ Market would extend from Main Street to the stadium’s southern entrance.
The decision to site the ballpark in Shockoe Bottom, as opposed to the Boulevard area where The Diamond sits, is a gutsy one. Shockoe Bottom was indeed the home of the slave trade on the East Coast (only New Orleans had a larger slave-trading market), and there are many in Richmond who say a ballpark is incompatible to the area’s history. But there has been other development in Shockoe Bottom — a gas station sits on one very historic site — and there’s a good economic argument to make for Shockoe Bottom development: it could yield up to $187 million in new tax revenue, double what could be generated by development at The Diamond area.
It will also be an interesting challenge for the Flying Squirrels. Putting a new ballpark downtown will be a drastic change for baseball fans: polls from the Times-Dispatch showed tepid support for a downtown ballpark, as opposed to the almost-suburban location of The Diamond. Historically, fans used to easy access and parking complain about a downtown ballpark until they get there and see parking and access isn’t a huge issue. In any case, we’re expecting to see some predictable responses today.
UPDATE 2: Scholars opposing a ballpark at Shockoe Bottom have responded with a statement calling for development in Shockoe Brrom centered on a historic district and tourism destination center focused on the slave trade. Here’s the full statement:
The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month used to be commemorated as the moment when World War I finally ended. Today, Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones has chosen that exact time to propose that a for-profit entertainment center be constructed on what was once the largest slave-trading market north of New Orleans.
In response, we wish to state again, in no uncertain terms, that we are totally opposed to this desecration of a site made sacred by mass human suffering. On this there can be no compromise. Instead, we reiterate our call that Shockoe Bottom be developed as a historic district and educational tourism destination center that could bring far more economic benefits to Richmond than a double-A baseball stadium while avoiding another shameful instance of the City disrespecting its African-American history.
The timing of this proposal is particularly troubling. Richmond is finally beginning to come to terms with its role in the development of slavery as a massive, for-profit system of human exploitation. But if this proposal is accepted, the stadium would be under construction on April 3, 2015, the 150th anniversary of the day Union troops marched into Richmond and ended the city’s more than 100 years of slavery. How will that play out in the national media?
The mayor says the history of Shockoe Bottom would be respected, but there is no way the enormity of the human tragedy that took place here less than 150 years ago could be told by shoe-horning a museum into this project. In the 30 years before the end of the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of people were sold out of Shockoe’s 40-50 auction houses. They were held in the many slave jails scattered throughout the district. This trade in human flesh was serviced by scores of businesses from blacksmiths, tailors and dry goods merchants to the city’s bankers, newspapers and railroads. The trade stretched from the James River to north of Marshall Street and west of what is now I-95 to several blocks east of what is now Main Street Station. Right field of the proposed stadium would sit on the site of a slave jail owned by the notorious trader Silas Omohundro. Any token tip of the hat to this history would itself be a desecration of this sacred ground.
Although the proposal is being touted as an economic development project that would benefit the entire city, it’s clear what’s really at stake. A small group of wealthy developers want the land now occupied by the Diamond on North Boulevard, along with a commercial project that would greatly increase the value of their already substantial holdings in Shockoe Bottom. Since no one would support this proposal if it were honestly described, Mayor Jones and the public relations firm hired by Venture Richmond have crafted a message that a stadium project would somehow address the city’s 26 percent poverty rate.
But the mayor also promised that economic benefits would flow from the pro-football training camp he brought to Richmond. No local venders were allowed to set up shop there. Few nearby businesses benefited. The City is now committed to a half-million-dollar annual subsidy for a camp owned by a D.C. billionaire. Retail sales in August, the camp’s busiest time, were actually lower than in the previous August. In addition, Richmond is now saddled with hosting the team with the most racist name in pro sports, entangling us in a growing national controversy.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what bribes or incentives the mayor offers – a museum, supermarket, more condos, more retail shops – it’s just morally wrong to play games on the site of mass human suffering.
Instead, we are calling for the creation of a historic district and educational tourism destination center that would finally tell the real story of how this city, state and country were built and bring far more economic benefits to many more people than just the small group of wealthy developers behind this stadium project.
For more information on this issue, visit: www.shockoebottom.blogspot.com.
SIGNED: Kim Allen, Ph.D – Educator & Anthropologist, Richmond; affiliated with CIRA, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; Autumn Barrett – Assistant Director, Institute for Historical Biology, College of William & Mary; Randolph Bell – Former U.S. Ambassador; Trustee, First Freedom Foundation; Richmond Resident; Ana Edwards – Chair, Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project of the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality; Monica Esparza – Chair, African Ancestral Chamber; John Gerner – Richmond Resident, East End; David Herring – Member, Richmond’s Slave Trail Commission and a 27-year Resident of Church Hill; Anita Lee & James Armstrong, – Members, First Unitarian Universalists Church of Richmond; Shawn O. Utsey, Ph.D. – Professor of Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University; Phil Wilayto – Editor, The Virginia Defender
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