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Flying Squirrels ballpark breakthrough announced

Richmond Flying SquirrelsA new Richmond Flying Squirrels (Class AA; Eastern League) ballpark will be the result of a regional effort and guided by team ownership, as Mayor Dwight Jones dropped efforts to place a facility in the downtown Shockoe Bottom area.

The Diamond was built as the result of regional cooperation, and it looks like a similar effort will be used to build a new Flying Squirrels ballpark. Jones announced the move in a statement released last night.

“In recent days, I have met with Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas and Chesterfield County Administrator Jay Stegmaier to advance this important regional priority,” Jones said in the statement. “This includes agreeing to a process to identify alternative locations in the region to ensure that the Richmond Flying Squirrels have a permanent home.”

The announcement comes after meetings yesterday with the Flying Squirrels, Eastern League officials and reps from Richmond, Henrico County and Chesterfield County. The group is now shooting for a 2018 opening (requiring a lease extension at The Diamond through 2017), but there’s nothing firm in place other than to work together to identify a location and develop a funding plan, probably in the form of a public-private partnership. The team will be charged with leading the way on a location and put together a finding plan, according to Jones per his statement, as the Squirrels: “will consider site selection options, financing opportunities including private investment, potential construction schedules, and that recognizes the financial constraints our localities are facing.”

From WRIC:

Flying Squirrels’ COO Todd “Parney” Parnell says he’s never been more confident in regional partnership.

“I didn’t hear the counties and the city talking,” he told 8News. “I heard one voice that was really excited about sitting down and figuring out what we can do together to get this done.”…

“There have been ebbs and flows before, but there’s a sincerity that I heard today that this is really real and we really appreciate it,” he explained.

The goal is to identify a site by the end of the year. “We committed, together with our regional partners, to work with the Squirrels,” Jones said in the statement. “Ultimately, the Squirrels will identify a site that best fits their needs.”

The effort for a new ballpark to replace the aging Diamond has been going on for years, first when the Richmond Braves (Class AAA; International League) were in town. Much of the effort centered on a new ballpark in downtown’s Shockoe Bottom area, where local residents protested the presence of a ballpark in an area once home to the city’s slave trade. And although in the past the Flying Squirrels owners have offered one of the richest leases in Minor League Baseball, the city has struggled to identify any sort of funding plan.

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