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Richmond moves forward on new $2.4 billion development, including new Flying Squirrels ballpark

With the selection of investors to lead a new $2.4 billion mixed-use development, Richmond officials now have a plan for a new Flying Squirrels ballpark near the current Diamond location.

The mixed-use development, the Diamond District, is slated to be located along Arthur Ashe Boulevard. Here’s an overview of the development.

Last night the Richmond City Council approved RVA Diamond Partners (a partnership of Thalhimer Realty Partners, Washington’s Republic Properties Corp. and Chicago’s Loop Capital) to develop 67.57 acres of public property with a mix of the ballpark, 137,000 square feet of retail, 5,100 parking spaces, a 150-room hotel, apartments, restaurants and a new park. The new development will be built in stages, but a priority will be construction of a new Flying Squirrels ballpark by the 2025 season to replace The Diamond as the Eastern League team’s home. The Diamond is not in the best of shape, and when MLB imposed new MiLB facility guidelines, it was decided early on by the team ownership and the city that putting money in The Diamond would be a poor investment.

Instead, the new MiLB facility guidelines ended up causing the city and the team to finally commit to a new-ballpark plan, a task that has come up short for many, many years, with the pair following a familiar path of tying a new ballpark to additional investment and development.

The new ballpark will be backed by Community Development Authority (CDA) bond financing, but in a worst-case scenario there’s no obligation for the city to repay those bonds; the risk is with the developers.

To begin, the city will sell The Diamond and surrounding acreage to developers for $16 million; in return, the developers will invest at $627.6 million in initial planning and construction, including the ballpark (a 2025 opening is a hard deadline) and 1,729 residential rental and individual-owned units. Previous announcements regarding the ballpark indicated 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.

Here are the specific steps to be carried out now, according to the city:

  • Begins the design phase of the ballpark as soon as possible with a commitment to purchase the first $20M of bonds to finance the new baseball stadium.
  • Provides a master plan approach with a balance of open space, walkable blocks, and a mixed-use, mixed-income development program that celebrates the ballpark as an important anchor and honors the legacy of Arthur Ashe, Jr.
  • Creates an 11-acre signature park that is envisioned to be a place for all Richmonders to enjoy with several distinct areas and programming planned throughout the year.
  • Provides 20 percent of the rental units to households earning between 30 percent – 60% percent of the area median income (AMI), with at least 100 of the units with project-based vouchers for public housing residents.
  • Provides 20 percent of the homeownership units to households earning between 60 percent – 70 percent of AMI and funding a $1 million fund that will assist affordable home buyers with closing costs and other transaction expenses.
  • Showcases a diverse ownership team that includes 45 percent MBE ownership.
  • Seeks to include MBE/ESB business throughout the project from ownership and development to construction and operations, maintenance, and leasing inclusive of employment, contracting, and leasing. 
  • Desires to partner with the Richmond Public School Board to develop a Technical Training Center at the Maury Street and Richmond Highway former Altria site to create an available workforce with sufficient experience to support the development of the Diamond District, and other development projects throughout the city.

“This proposal meets our goals to equitably revitalize an underdeveloped part of our city and maximize its potential to enhance the quality of life for all Richmonders,” said Mayor Levar Stoney via press release. “Commitments to affordable housing, minority business engagement, publicly accessible open space and a new ballpark mean that the Diamond District will be enjoyed by, built by, and benefit all residents of our city. The Diamond District has long been a diamond in the rough. I look forward to seeing it shine.”

“The Richmond Flying Squirrels are proud to be an anchor tenant of this proposed revitalization and development of the Diamond District, a natural extension of the growth of our beloved hometown,” said Lou DiBella, Richmond Flying Squirrels president, via press release. “The Squirrels will be the most well-known neighbors in a new, diverse, and dynamic neighborhood. We commit to being a great neighbor and to making memories together for decades to come.”

Some big names are involved in the project: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; DLR Group; Nelson Byrd Woltz landscape architects; J&G Workforce Development; and San Diego’s JMI Sports, the media rights and venue-development company. The project also include participation from VCU, which will be a tenant in the new ballpark but not (as of now) investing in the facility, instead building a new athletics village at the former Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control warehouse property.

Between now and the 2025 opening tongues will surely wag about how the new ballpark could impact the current MiLB structure. It’s no secret the Washington Nationals attempted to place their Triple-A affiliate in Richmond during MLB’s reconfiguration of the minors, and it’s a good bet the Nats will make another run at such a shift when the new ballpark opens. That doesn’t mean current Nats affiliate Rochester would be booted from MiLB; it could mean the Red Wings flip spots between Double-A and Triple-A.

RELATED STORIES: Next development deadline looms for new Richmond ballpark; Richmond requests proposals for development, new Flying Squirrels ballpark;  Flying Squirrels ballpark plan emergingRichmond development to include $80-$100M Flying Squirrels ballparkMore Richmond ballpark progress?DiBella: 2025 now drop-dead date for new Flying Squirrels ballparkWill Flying Squirrels soar in the New Year?

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