A week after Mayor Dwight Jones unveiled a new Shockoe Bottom ballpark plan for the Richmond Flying Squirrels (Class AA; Eastern League), the City Council will debate its merits.
It’s an ambitious plan, calling for a new ballpark and flood control to Shockoe Bottom — over the objections of activists calling for a strong commemoration of the area’s history as a slave-trading center — and new development there and at The Diamond site, potentially reaching $900 million. That’s a lot of new investment, and there’s not a single big-city mayor who wouldn’t push a plan calling for almost a billion in new spending.
This week will see two City Council committees consider the plan, and so far most members have been fairly circumspect, preferring to let the process play out. There are three issues here:
- Whether the public investment will pay off;
- Whether Shockoe Bottom should be developed, as opposed to a larger slavery museum; and
- Whether Shockoe Bottom is a better location for pro baseball, as opposed to The Diamond.
Complex issues, to be sure, and there are some other complicating factors, though we’re not sure everyone claiming to be a player in the process deserves to be a player, especially when there is some racial politics at play. From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:
“Council has to approve the whole thing or else there’s no deal,” Chief Administrative Officer Byron C. Marshall said in an interview last week, noting that the Shockoe projects come as a package as spelled out in the initial agreements with developers and in a resolution that will be taken up by two council committees this week.
Opponents have criticized the plan as disrespectful of the Bottom’s slave history and as a taxpayer-backed giveaway to a sports team. Others are skeptical of the traffic and parking logistics of baseball in the Bottom, as well as the area’s reputation for rowdy nightlife and crime.
“I don’t want to be taking my grandchildren to a ballgame and then have to explain to their mom and dad that they were injured by a criminal,” said baseball fan Bill Meeks, a retired Marine who lives in Hanover County. Meeks also said he was concerned that the voices of Squirrels fans who live in surrounding counties won’t be heard because it is city leaders who will decide on the ballpark plan. “It affects us, too,” he said.
For the record, let it be noted that elected reps in said surrounding counties declined to help fund a replacement for The Diamond. Also, note the three largest counties surrounding Richmond (Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico) have a predominantly white population; Richmond does not.
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