As 2025 will be here before we know it, many Minor League Baseball teams are in the final stages of planning to meet the MLB ballpark specs–including the Richmond Flying Squirrels (Double-A; Eastern League), in the end run for a new Richmond ballpark.
To say what a long, strange trip it’s been for Lou DiBella, the rest of the Flying Squirrels ownership and front-office staff on the new ballpark is an understatement: it’s certainly the longest-running MiLB ballpark saga we’ve been following, and the path to a new ballpark and survival is lined with false starts and dead ends.
But things seem different this time: the challenges aren’t external in the form of resistance to a ballpark site, but rather internal in terms of financing challenges and logistics between partners. The financial plan isn’t pie-in-the-sky, but rather relies on a developer to generate much of the revenue needed to build the new ballpark. That 15 developers initially responded to a city-issued Request for Offers (RFO) was a good sign, allowing for the field to be trimmed to three. Those three offers are under consideration; a decision is expected by June 28.
The goal for a new ballpark is a capacity of 10,000, with approximately 8,000 fixed seats and room for approximately 2,000 standing room patrons. In addition, the new ballpark would feature 20 suites and 500 club seats, with adjacent private club space that would be designed to be able to accommodate additional events like meetings, receptions, parties and other events. And, obviously, the new ballpark would meet current MiLB facility standards. The Flying Squirrels would play 70 games there, with VCU playing another 30. An additional 100 events are projected, with the cost of the ballpark forecast as $80-$100 million.
The belief is that this is a doable plan, but there are a few caveats involved. The first: the project requires a developer that won’t veer too far away from the RFO; big asks from a developer will surely kill the project. Yes, some sort of public financing is likely in the form of the creation of a Community Development Authority, or CDA, a mechanism similar to a TIF where additional revenues generated from a development would be plowed back into the project. (Presumably any unrealistic proposals were weeded from the initial round of 15.) The second: the city meet all its deadlines in the RFO evals and permitting process. From RichmondBizSense:
The RFO also requires that teams indicate their readiness to deliver the new stadium by the 2025 deadline with identified milestones, stadium team members, coordination with Major League Baseball, and a kickoff agenda to involve an initial meeting with the city, VCU and the Flying Squirrels within 30 days after the development team selection is announced in July.
David Carlock [of Machete Group, leading the Richmond Community Development Partners final bid] said such urgency in the schedule will be needed, as he said design work will need to get going right away.
“Frankly, you want to get started on design immediately after they make a selection. You could probably absorb a month, but at some point it becomes a zero-sum game. There’s only so much time left between now and March of ’25, so you want to waste as little time as you possibly can,” Carlock said.
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