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Stoney unveils $600 million proposal for city schools as part of Coliseum redevelopment
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Stoney unveils $600 million proposal for city schools as part of Coliseum redevelopment

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Richmond Public Schools would receive $600 million in surplus tax money over 30 years from a redevelopment project centered on a new Coliseum under a proposal unveiled Friday by Mayor Levar Stoney.

Of the remaining 50 percent of the projected $1.2 billion in surplus money generated through the project, 15 percent would go to housing, 1 percent to the arts and 34 percent into the city’s general fund.

Stoney announced details of the project — formally known as the Navy Hill Redevelopment Project — earlier this month. Friday’s announcement defined where tax revenue would go.

A total of $600 million would go to an ailing school district with a new superintendent who has become close with the mayor since taking over earlier this year.

“By dedicating significant portions of the surplus revenues this project will create to our top priorities of education, housing opportunities, and arts and culture, we are following through on my commitment that this project will truly be the greatest economic empowerment project in our city’s history,” said Stoney, making the formal announcement at George Mason Elementary School in the city’s East End.

The $1.2 billion surplus from the project is calculated over 30 years, meaning RPS would get $20 million more per year if Stoney’s proposal is approved by the City Council.

Superintendent Jason Kamras said the money would pay for at least six new schools in the district starting in 2023.

“That means thousands of children will have a beautiful, modern building to walk into every morning,” he said. “Of course, this doesn’t solve our facility challenges, nor does it address our immediate need for more instructional dollars. But it’s a significant step in the right direction.”

The Richmond School Board’s five-year facilities plan, which calls for the building of five new schools, remains just two-thirds funded.

The Coliseum would be demolished in March under a timeline created by a nonprofit group, NH District Corp., led by Dominion Energy CEO Thomas F. Farrell II in an effort to redevelop part of downtown with a new 17,500-seat arena and a new Virginia Commonwealth University medical office building, among other things.

Stoney said at Friday’s announcement that the money that would go to city schools, housing and the arts would come from the special tax zone being created to help pay for the project.

As part of the proposal, Stoney wants to create a tax-increment-financing district, or TIF, with boundaries of First Street, Interstate 95/64, 10th Street and the Downtown Expressway, that will make new real estate tax revenue — either from property assessments increasing or new construction or renovation projects — go to pay down the debt on the Coliseum redevelopment.

Paul Goldman, a longtime political player in Richmond, is in the process of getting signatures for a referendum calling on money from the TIF district to be spent on school upgrades.

“You can ignore Paul Goldman, but you can’t ignore good ideas,” he said Friday.

Stoney still has to introduce the proposal to the council, which has the power of either signing off on the project or killing it.

Council President Chris Hilbert and Vice President Cynthia Newbille endorsed Stoney’s surplus proposal in statements Friday.

School Board Chairwoman Dawn Page also approved of the plan Friday, but not every board member agrees with the sentiment.

“This new wrinkle in the Coliseum proposal is what I would characterize as the ‘if you believe this plan, then I have some swampland in Florida to sell you,’” said 4th District representative Jonathan Young.

The School Board has not publicly discussed the project, something 3rd District School Board member Kenya Gibson said she hopes happens Monday “so we can share a true collective message on this ambitious project.”

“My concern is this — as a city, we are being asked to use future tax dollars to support private development with no alternative option on the table,” Gibson said in a statement. “Further, the project has been presented as if success is guaranteed. There is never a single possible financial outcome for any development project, much less a project of this scope. Let’s celebrate once the dollars are in hand, and we’re ready to do right by our students.”

The School Board meets at 6 p.m. Monday in City Hall. A discussion on the Coliseum redevelopment project is not on the agenda.

jmattingly@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6012

Twitter: @jmattingly306

Staff writer Mark Robinson contributed to this report.

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