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$2.4 billion Diamond District project takes shape after developer selected

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Mayor Levar Stoney announces the developer for The Diamond District.

After striking out on a casino and a new downtown arena in the past two years, the city of Richmond is poised to land a $2.4 billion redevelopment project that delivers a new baseball stadium and mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood along Arthur Ashe Boulevard.

“There is nothing minor league about any of this,” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said Tuesday in a news conference announcing the project and the selection of a development team for it. “This is a major league investment in the people of Richmond.”

After a monthslong evaluation process, the city announced Monday night that it has selected RVA Diamond Partners to replace The Diamond and build homes, apartments, restaurants, retail stores, a hotel and a signature crescent-shaped park across 67 acres of public property.

While the entire project is expected to take more than a decade to complete, it will begin with the opening of a new baseball stadium by spring 2025 in order to keep the Flying Squirrels baseball team in Richmond. The Double-A club says it needs a new home by then to comply with new Major League Baseball facility standards.

The first phase of the project, according to a term sheet and City Council resolution introduced Monday evening, is expected to generate $156.2 million in tax revenue over a 30-year period.

Under the terms of the proposed agreement, the city will sell the baseball stadium for $16 million to the developer, which will begin the first phase of the project on 22 acres with a minimum capital investment of $627.6 million.

RVA Diamond Partners is led by Thalhimer Realty Partners, Republic Properties Corp. of Washington and Loop Capital from Chicago.

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Other partners in the development team include architectural firms Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Nelson Byrd Woltz and DLR Group; J&G Workforce Development; JMI Sports; and development firms Pennrose and Southside Community Development & Housing Corporation. Local artist Sir James Thornhill and the Richmond Black Restaurant Experience are also part of the team.

Rufus Williams, managing director with Loop Capital, said his firm signed on to the project after determining that the city is expected to keep growing.

“The more I see of Richmond and Mayor Stoney, the more I like,” he said. “We’ve been involved in a lot of development projects across the country. But I must say that what you’re doing here is unique. What you’re doing here is truly special.”

City officials and project leaders at Tuesday’s event emphasized that the project is meant to transform the area while meeting goals for equitable development through the creation of more affordable housing and job opportunities for local residents and underserved communities.

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The development will start with a minimum of 1,729 residential units, at least 65 of which will be for sale, according to the project agreement.

The housing component of the project also includes a goal that 285 of those units be reserved for families making less than 60% of the area median income. Another 61 units would be saved for households making under 30% of it, with about half set aside for public housing residents with project-based vouchers.

On the commercial side, the terms include the construction of an approximately 90,000-square-foot hotel with a minimum of 150 rooms; 137,000 square feet of retail space; and 5,105 structured parking spaces.

Leonard Sledge, the city’s director of economic development, said the project will be financed by the establishment of a community development authority that will use new incremental tax revenue from the development to pay back project loans. He said there will also be a 2% surcharge for hotel stays and a 0.25% charge on retail sales in the development to help finance it.

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Virginia Commonwealth University officials said the project also makes way for the university to move forward with its plans to demolish Sports Backers stadium and build a new athletic village across Hermitage Road at a former Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control warehouse.

University President Michael Rao said the new baseball stadium will also serve as a home for the university’s baseball team.

VCU President Michael Rao on the Diamond district

“This is a major investment in the city. It’s also a major investment in VCU,” he said. “Redevelopment of this parcel combined with the 41 acres that VCU will develop across Hermitage Road for our athletics village will lift up this entire community in ways that we will only know once we move forward with this project.”

A panel of city and university officials selected RVA Diamond Partners for the project after evaluating 15 development teams that expressed interest in the project. The process came down to two teams in August.

“We would like to thank the City of Richmond for including us in a well-run and efficient process,” said David Carlock, principal of the Machete Group, a Houston-based development firm that led the Richmond Community Development Partners, the other final team that was up for consideration.

“Our team has enjoyed working closely with the city and engaging with the community over the past several months. We would also like to congratulate the team at RVA Diamond Partners and wish them luck bringing the project to life in the coming years.”

There are few other details about the next phases of the redevelopment project, but a chart in the development agreement shows that the full build-out will take more than a decade with additional property transfers anticipated in or around 2027, 2030 and 2033 at a total cost of $52.3 million.

The development agreement and other procedural approvals for the project are still pending.

Stoney said Tuesday that the project has the seven votes it needs to pass the City Council, as all but two members have signed on as legislative patrons.

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“This project is a game changer,” said 3rd District Councilwoman Ann-Frances Lambert, who served on the evaluation panel. “I’m excited about the team we have chosen, and I’m thrilled not only to introduce them, but to work alongside them to see the completion of this project.”

The City Council is slated to ratify the selection of RVA Diamond Partners when it meets again on Sept. 26.

Carly Shields moved back to Richmond in late-Spring 2022 and promptly started RVA Yoga Hang as way for friends and yogis to find their moments of zen among some of Richmond's coolest and most happening spots. From 8@4 presented by Massey Cancer Center from the Virginia Wayside Furniture studio.

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