Before the Diamond District, there was the Shockoe Bottom ballpark.
Nearly a decade after the ill-fated plans for a baseball stadium near downtown fell apart, Richmond is now closer than ever to building a new stadium to replace The Diamond.
On Tuesday, at an event announcing the selection of a developer to build a new stadium on Arthur Ashe Boulevard by 2025 and redevelop the site around it for $2.4 billion, Flying Squirrels President and General Manager Lou DiBella wiped a tear from his eye thinking about how long it took to reach this point.
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“I’m not going to tell you I didn’t have moments of doubt that we would get here, but they went away with time because we have never felt anything but love for the city. We weren’t willing to go somewhere else,” he said. “I’m so relieved. And I’m so happy.”
DiBella’s emotions at the press conference evince how the city has struggled to adopt plans for a new stadium to replace The Diamond, which was built in 1985 and no longer meet Major League Baseball facility standards.
While former Mayor Dwight Jones and his administration in 2013 reintroduced plans to build a new stadium for the Double-A team in Shockoe Bottom, the idea met fierce resistance from local residents.
Critics said a new stadium would be a misuse of public resources. Some said it also felt disrespectful, as the city has historically done little to commemorate Shockoe Bottom’s legacy as the nation’s second-largest slave market in the decades leading up to the U.S. Civil War.
Jones eventually withdrew his plans for the stadium there. A few local developers then floated the idea of building a new stadium on Arthur Ashe Boulevard. Most local residents in a series of community meetings in 2016 said they liked that idea. But the plans never came together.
DiBella said Mayor Levar Stoney told him he wanted to help the team stay when he was elected six years ago but that DiBella needed to be patient. He said the mayor wanted to make sure he could pitch a project that would benefit the public and be widely accepted.
“We knew how important it was to get this right. There’s a lot of faces here today that know what I’m talking about,” Stoney said Tuesday. “We’ve been at bat many times and struck out. But we’re not striking out anymore. This is about hitting home runs.”
The City Council must still approve the terms of the project, which needs at least seven of its nine members to approve the transfer of public property to the selected development team, RVA Diamond Partners. Seven of them are signed on as patrons on legislation to approve the partnership.
Second District Councilwoman Katherine Jordan, who represents the area where The Diamond is located and worked on the city panel that selected the development team, said she is excited for the project.
Though Jordan was first elected to the Council in 2020, she acknowledged that the project has been anticipated for many years.
“We listened when you said you didn’t want it in Shockoe Bottom. We heard you when you said you wanted baseball on Arthur Ashe Boulevard. And we heard you through during the Richmond 300 process that you wanted mixed-income, mixed-use development,” she said.
Holding a baseball she found in The Diamond parking lot when details about the developer selection process were announced last February, she reiterated that the project needs to be a team effort.
“I’m going to continue carrying it until we are opening our new baseball stadium and welcoming our new families and residents,” she said. “If I carry this baseball alone, if the Council carries it alone, we won’t get there.
“We need every one of you to continue cheerleading for this project, continuing to say you want growth in Richmond and more inclusive neighborhoods. ... So, let’s not be scared of change. Let’s be excited for what’s next for the city.”