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DiBella to Richmond: Time for a ballpark plan

Richmond Flying SquirrelsRichmond Flying Squirrels (Class AA; Eastern League) President and Managing General Partner Lou DiBella is warning city officials they run the danger of losing the team because of inaction on any new-ballpark plans.

In an open letter to the Richmond community, DiBella says his group has made a significant commitment to the greater Richmond market, invested in a marginal ballpark and been open to the several ballpark plans proposed in recent years. Despite those efforts, the team is looking at a situation where The Diamond lease ends in 2016 and there’s nothing new on the horizon. From DiBella’s letter:

While plans for a redevelopment of the Bottom that included a new ballpark slowed and screeched to a halt, the Squirrels watched how quickly the Redskins Training Center was funded and built. The Redskins train in Richmond for approximately three weeks a year. We attended a press conference announcing that Richmond would host the World Cycling Championship. While a great event, it is hosted in a different international city every year. We also saw how speedily the City Council approved the Stone Brewing project, which included $23 million in bond funding. We have patiently awaited our turn, believing that baseball was not lured back to Richmond under false pretenses. A state of the art minor league stadium is needed to meet the standards and needs of Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball, and today’s baseball fan. Unfortunately, it seems that the vigor of attracting something new to Richmond takes precedence over a genuine, good faith commitment to keep what is already working here. The Braves left town when a new stadium appeared a pipe dream. The Diamond has not become less obsolete, more structurally sound, or more user friendly since the Squirrels arrived. Our investment of money, time, and effort, the success that we have worked so hard to achieve, and the loyalty and support of the greatest fans a team could have, do not render the Diamond a suitable long-term home for baseball.

The Squirrels are operating at the Diamond with a precariously short term lease which expires at the end of the 2016 season. Not only is our future uncertain, but efforts toward consensus have been replaced by political paralysis by analysis. Constructive debate has devolved into rancor and finger pointing. No development of Shockoe Bottom which includes a new ballpark is presently planned, nor is a new stadium discussed as part of the redevelopment of the 60 acre Boulevard property….

The Flying Squirrels belong in Greater Richmond. For our part, the Squirrels can only continue to do what we do: work hard and hope for the best. We are eager to sit down with anyone that is willing to tell us how we fit into the long term plans of this City and the surrounding Counties. It is our greatest desire to have the Flying Squirrels continue our vital role in your quality of life for years to come. Are we any kind of priority to the powers that be in this region? There needs to be a timely and meaningful consensus with respect to a new stadium and the future of baseball in Greater Richmond.

The current plan, such as it is, is for a new ballpark near The Diamond, with associated revenue used to help fund a facility. But that plan also calls for assistance from three counties in the region — Chesterfield, Henrico and Hanover — and so far county assistance as well as solid development funding has been slow to arrive. From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

In response to the letter, Minor League Baseball President Pat O’Conner warned that Richmond is in danger of losing its professional team because of The Diamond’s condition and no firm plan to replace it.

“I have to tell you, if there was another good place, you’d be either playing independent baseball at The Diamond or you’d be dark,” O’Conner said Tuesday.

DiBella said he has not been involved in any serious discussions about relocating the Squirrels to another city, but he did call for immediate progress on his lease on The Diamond, which expires next year, with three one-year options beyond 2016, and for some commitment to resume discussions for a replacement for the 30-year-old stadium.

It’s pretty clear the Flying Squirrels have made a significant commitment to the greater Richmond area. Whether that commitment is reciprocated should be determined this year.

RELATED STORIES: Richmond ballpark solution stalled; will counties help?; Will 2015 finally see Richmond ballpark solution?; Flying Squirrels announce ballpark upgrades; Flying Squirrels at The Diamond for two more years; McEacharn: Lots of “frustration” with Richmond ballpark situation; Flying Squirrels ballpark plan on hold; Richmond ballpark plan lacks council support; Deal reached on Flying Squirrels ballpark funding; Shockoe Bottom back to top site for new Flying Squirrels ballpark; Private funding of new Squirrels ballpark in the works; Flying Squirrels ballpark site under historical review; Flying Squirrels ballpark plan advances; Votes on new Richmond ballpark set to start next week; Flying Squirrels add more locals to ownership; Richmond ballpark revenues could be used for other purposes; Richmond ballpark opponents: Map used to justify location is inaccurate; Richmond purchase of Diamond: Making way for Shockoe Bottom ballpark; Alternative plan pitched for Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom: No new ballpark; Flying Squirrels lease: $1.7M annually; naming rights could lower that number; Squirrels ballpark plan include hotel, apartments, grocery; Richmond quietly positions for new ballpark; Activists: Ballpark not best use for Shockoe Bottom; Poll: Squirrels home should be built next to current ballpark; Richmond: No vote on ballpark location; Flying Squirrels: Fans don’t know what they are missing

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