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Is 2025 a firm deadline for teams to meet MiLB facility upgrades? Maybe not

After Richmond officials announced they would not make a 2025 deadline for a new Flying Squirrels ballpark, a letter from MiLB indicates a 2025 deadline may not be totally firm–as long as a financing plan is in place.

For months we’ve been hearing from team owners with a fear about brushing up against 2025 as a firm deadline for those teams deciding a new or heavily renovated facility was their ticket to meeting MiLB facility standards; that’s why we’re seeing new ballparks planned for that season in Knoxville, Hillsboro and Salt Lake City–and, previously, Richmond.

Last night, however, the city announced a new Flying Squirrels ballpark would not be ready until 2026–as owner Lou DiBella warned against–and has requested a deferment past that 2025 deadline into 2026. The response from MiLB, per the Richmond Times-Dispatch–we’ll need more information before issuing a deferment:

“While we recognize that an additional deferral will be needed with respect to the Club’s obligation to be in compliance with the 2024 Facility Standards Threshold, we are unable to provide that deferral at this time as the Club has yet to provide (MLB) with (i) evidence of sufficient funding commitments to fund the construction of a new ballpark and (ii) finalized plans and a timeline for the construction of the new ballpark.”

The implication is clear that a deferment is possible once a firm funding plan is in place. Which, given how the last four years have gone, between the impact of a worldwide pandemic and the accompanying financial downturn, is perfectly reasonable.

The new Richmond Flying Squirrels ballpark is one component of a complex deal that involves VCU and development envisioned as partial financial backing for the project. 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 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 and 1,729 residential rental and individual-owned units. (Here’s our original report on the deal.)

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 fans. 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. 

The original $80 million price tag for the ballpark, however, is seen by the city and developers as being out of date, as interest rates and the cost of construction (materials, labor) have risen since that initial estimate. That’s part of the struggle for everyone involved–including teams struggling to make what they’ve been told is a firm 2025 deadline and MiLB staff seeking to close out facility upgrades as soon as feasible.

For the record, the prophetic DiBella was not informed by the city, he says, about the delay from 2025 to 2026.

RELATED STORIES: DiBella raises concerns on new Richmond ballpark; Zoning change on tap for Richmond Flying Squirrels new ballpark site; Richmond moves forward on new $2.4 billion development, including new Flying Squirrels ballparkNext development deadline looms for new Richmond ballparkRichmond 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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