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baseball plan

Mayor, Council reach deal restoring Shockoe money

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Mayor Dwight C. Jones and the Richmond City Council announced a budget deal Monday that restores most of the funding for the mayor’s plan for a Shockoe Bottom baseball stadium.

The mayor had threatened to veto a council attempt to reallocate $12.6 million tied to the Shockoe development plan, but the compromise avoids the mayor’s first use of the veto power while allowing the council to preserve some of the funding it added to areas such as school maintenance and the riverfront plan.

In total, the changes restore the capital funding for Shockoe infrastructure projects to $10.6 million, less than the $13.6 million the mayor originally budgeted, but enough to keep the project alive as the city approaches the end of its budgeting process.

The council planned to give city schools an additional $3.2 million for building maintenance, but that amount dropped to a little more than $2 million under the new arrangement.

The mayor and Council President Charles R. Samuels, 2nd District, announced details of the agreement in a joint statement released during Monday’s council meeting, when the administration also revealed paperwork behind the Shockoe plan after months of negotiations.

“It’s been very encouraging to see the outpouring of support for public schools this year,” Jones said in the statement. “From my conversations with students, members of the School Board and City Council, and due to my confidence in our new school superintendent, I’m pleased that we’ve been able to add additional funding for public schools. We’re all committed to our public schools, the riverfront, and our bicycling infrastructure. This agreement moves these projects forward.”

“I am pleased with this agreement that invests in our shared priorities to move the city forward and avoids a mayoral veto or override,” Samuels said. “Richmond City Council and the mayor came together, negotiated in good faith, and produced a positive result for the city.”

Six council votes would have been required to override the mayor’s veto, but only five council members voted to reallocate the funding.

The Shockoe funding was restored in part by scrapping a plan to allocate $4.5 million to discretionary capital projects in council members’ districts and cutting $3.9 million for an emergency call center proposed for the city’s South Side.

The extra money for the riverfront plan, which includes the proposed Brown’s Island dam walk, was funded through a $9.1 million surplus, which the administration certified after several delays last week that emerged amid the dustup over the Shockoe money.

On Monday, officials from the Jones administration briefed the council on the finalized Shockoe plan and introduced a new ordinance accompanied by roughly 100 pages of documentation laying out the details.

Officials chalked up the delay in finalizing the plan to the complexity of the deals, which was evident in the reams of legalese made public Monday night.

According to letters of intent, the Richmond Economic Development Authority would pay $2.5 million to purchase 1.136 acres from Harry and Betty Loving LLC. The Loving family, whose produce company moved to South Richmond in 2007 after more than 50 years in the Bottom, owns several parcels needed for the stadium development.

The sale to the development authority depends on the simultaneous sale of “certain property owned by affiliates” of the Loving LLC to Highwoods Properties, the development firm tapped to build the Kroger grocery store north of Broad Street.

The sale also depends in the development authority’s lease of property from North of Broad LLC, another entity representing private developers. The first-year rental rate starts at $1.9 million plus transaction costs and interest on the loan.

Two parcels owned by Weiman Bakery LLC and one parcel with North 18 LLC would be exchanged with the development authority to enable the stadium development.

The development authority would also purchase two parcels from Richmond Cheers Properties LLC, the owner of Tiki Bob’s bar, for a total of $1.8 million.

Land acquisition had been a sticking point that in recent weeks has prompted officials to hold several meetings behind closed doors. When asked for an update Monday afternoon, Chief Administrative Officer Byron C. Marshall said he could update the council in a closed session.

The council entered closed session, citing an open-meeting exemption related to land deals that could be jeopardized if discussed publicly, and emerged after roughly 30 minutes.

There was no public presentation or explanation of the documents, but the letters of intent were given to reporters later Monday evening.

In a 6-3 vote in February, the City Council gave the administration its blessing to continue negotiations and finalize the plan details. The administration was expected to return with a presentation by March 27.

Grant Neely, the mayor’s chief of staff, opened Monday’s presentation by stressing that the mayor’s plan remains the best option for the city’s economy, despite “diversions of the recent days,” an apparent reference to alternative ideas floated for a Boulevard stadium and a separate slavery museum downtown.

The historical projects would be overseen by a for-profit entity, Neely said, which would handle both construction and daily operations. The city would lease “key facilities” to the unnamed entity for a “nominal fee.” The controlling board would consist of business leaders and professionals from Richmond and beyond, he said.

“This is an exciting opportunity that we have in front of us,” Neely said. “I believe it won’t come back for a long time if we pass this up.”

Administration officials said they’re still awaiting details on private funding commitments for the heritage site, which the City Council had asked for when it voted

Neely also played a video that showed new renderings of the proposed slave heritage site in the Bottom. The three-minute clip included images of a 45,000-square-foot museum near the African Burial Ground site. The administration has long touted its proposal for a pavilion at Lumpkin’s Jail, but the plans for a separate museum have been somewhat murky.

Marshall said it doesn’t appear that the city will have to go through a federal review process to determine the area’s historic value, but city officials have said they intend to go through a similar process informally. The formal process, known as a Section 106 review, would have been triggered if a federal agency got involved in permitting for the project, but Marshall said it doesn’t appear that will happen.

The administration intends to award a design contract May 22 for the Boulevard area, which will mark the beginning of what officials say will be a public process to shape a development plan.

An administration memo notes that the agreement with the developers includes personal guarantees and a deed of trust, measures designed to respond to a council request for financial guarantees that the development will be completed and produce the tax revenue needed to pay off the debt on the stadium project.

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This compromise adds:

$2.05 million in new funding for additional capital needs for Richmond Public Schools. Added to the $5 million provided in the mayor’s original budget, this represents a one-year increase of nearly 700% in capital funding for schools.

$1.5 million for bicycle infrastructure

$100,000 for the Oliver Hill Courts Building

$250,000 for blighted properties


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