As quickly as it emerged, a proposed site on the Boulevard for a new Richmond Flying Squirrels (Class AA; Eastern League) ballpark has been pulled from consideration, with Shockoe Bottom back on top as the first choice.
Suburban developers had floated a plan to build a new Flying Squirrels ballpark near the site of The Diamond as part of a larger development. We never really saw the specifics of this proposal, but it was pitched as an easy way to solve the ballpark problem, as the city already owns the land and the existing Squirrels fan base would move over.
But the proposal didn’t have any support from Richmond officials or the Flying Squirrels, as Mayor Dwight Jones continues to work on a Shockoe Bottom ballpark. His plan: work with developers on a Boulevard makeover (which would including tearing down The Diamond) and use those proceeds to fund the Shockoe Bottom redevelopment. The plan from the private developers would cherry-pick the easy part of the equation — the Boulevard redevelopment — and ignore the other part of the equation, the Shockoe Bottom redevelopment.
Meanwhile, the Shockoe Bottom plan is moving forward, as the Richmond Economic Development Authority works to acquire the land needed for the project. Per the Richmond Times-Dispatch:
A letter of intent for the “purchase” of land would be struck with Harry and Betty Loving LLC, an entity representing the family that owns most of the privately held land needed for the Shockoe stadium.
The other two agreements would be with an entity named North of Broad LLC, which would presumably represent private developers. One letter of intent would be for a “ground lease” of land necessary for the stadium’s development. The second would be with the same corporation or its “designee” for the “purchase, exchange or lease” of parcels needed for the development.
The agreements were to be struck “on such final terms as are acceptable” to the board chairman, as long as the total cost does not exceed the $79.6 million budget agreed to by the council.
The specifics of the land deal are expected to be announced this week.
Really, this is a battle of two visions. One is a vision laid out by Jones, using the economic tools at his disposal to build up Richmond, a game plan to use development money generated by the Boulevard to fund additional growth in the city core. The other vision, as laid out by the developers, calls for a suburban-friendly ballpark using the resources of Richmond. Now, when The Diamond was built, surrounding counties chipped in to build the ballpark. And, originally, the city approached the suburban counties about continuing that financial structure in an attempt to keep the Richmond Braves (Class AAA; International League). But when the counties decided against funding a new ballpark, they also lost any say in where a new ballpark would be built. Suburban Flying Squirrels fans aren’t happy with the potential move into Shockoe Bottom, and the proposal by Rebkee was an attempt to keep those suburban fans happy. In the end, Jones is betting on the plan that will revitalize two areas of his city simultaneously.
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