Richmond City Councilman Jonathan T. Baliles wants the city to control a group of properties critical to the redevelopment of Shockoe Bottom, but not as part of a mixed-use project surrounding a minor league baseball stadium.
Baliles intends to introduce a resolution to the City Council tonight to direct the Richmond Economic Development Authority to seek the acquisition and competitive redevelopment of about 12 acres owned by two entities associated with Loving’s Produce Co.
The resolution is aimed at gaining city control of about 20 parcels on both sides of East Broad Street that are owned by Loving’s Produce LLC or Harry & Betty Loving LLC, but not as part of the Shockoe economic development project advocated by Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones, who also relies on the Loving properties.
“The purpose of the resolution is to acquire land in a way that is clear, easy and transparent,” Baliles said Sunday. “The (mayor’s) baseball plan is very convoluted.”
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The proposed resolution comes a day after the unveiling of a private developer’s plan to build a minor league stadium next to The Diamond on North Boulevard as part of a mixed-use development that eventually could encompass all of the 60 acres owned by the city there.
The proposal by the Rebkee Co. came under fire Sunday from city officials and supporters of the mayor’s plan to build a new stadium in Shockoe Bottom and open up the entire Boulevard property for retail and other development.
Jack Berry, executive director of Venture Richmond, questioned the private financing of Rebkee’s proposal, which ultimately would rely on new taxes generated by the development, as would the mayor’s plan.
“Their definition of ‘privately financed’ is getting a bank loan, then paying it back with taxpayer funds that could have gone to city schools,” Berry said in a series of statements issued by a public relations firm for the Revitalizing RVA project.
Jones withdrew his proposal to avoid it being voted down by the council, but Grant Neely, his chief of staff, said Sunday that the city plans to “relaunch our plan in the coming weeks.”
“It will incorporate all the input received thus far and will be complete to the last detail, and inclusive of the entire community,” Neely said.
The statements released by Alliance Group include one by 9th District Councilwoman Michelle R. Mosby that criticizes the Rebkee proposal as inferior to the mayor’s plan, which focuses on economic development of two key areas of the city and commemoration of the African slave trade in Shockoe.
“The Shockoe plan is about economic development for the entire city, not just about site selection for a ballpark,” Mosby said. “I’m lost on this new Boulevard proposal. It doesn’t address the (slave) heritage site at all, nor does it address the benefits of funding for our schools, jobs and taxes in our city, my city.”
But the mayor’s plan is stalled without a clear political path forward through a council that does not appear to have a majority to support it.
His plan includes almost $80 million in upfront city investment to build the ballpark and necessary public works improvements in the Bottom, while Rebkee proposes to pay for the stadium and recover the cost from a portion of taxes generated from it and surrounding development. The mayor’s plan also would rely on tax proceeds from development surrounding the stadium.
Baliles, who has worked closely with Rebkee, said Sunday that the Loving properties are key to whatever development occurs in the Bottom, the oldest part of the city.
He said he will introduce the resolution to “incentivize development in Shockoe Bottom.”
Baliles compared the proposed purchase to Chesterfield County’s acquisition of the former Cloverleaf Mall property in 2004, Henrico County’s purchase of the former Best Plaza in late 2011, and Richmond’s acquisition of the Lehigh Cement Co. property to clear the way for the Virginia Capital Trail along the riverfront.
The same argument was made last week by Daniel A. Gecker, a Richmond-based real estate developer and Chesterfield County supervisor who is an investor in the proposed Rebkee development on the Boulevard.
Gecker told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that lack of control of the Loving properties stands in the way of Shockoe’s eventual redevelopment.
“Look at where they sit,” he said. “It’s the linchpin.”
The Loving properties also are central to the mayor’s plan, which includes the purchase of some parcels by the city and the acquisition of Loving’s Produce as a way for developers in the project to control the rest of the land.
The proposed resolution identifies 20 parcels on North 17th and 18th streets, East Grace and East Franklin streets, Oliver Hill Way and Ambler Street as “catalyst development sites.”
It directs Chief Administrative Officer Byron C. Marshall to authorize the EDA to negotiate to gain control of the properties by purchase or lease, identify funding for transactions, complete an archeological survey of historic resources, and seek “one or more qualified developers for this real estate using a publicized competitive proposal process or within the guidelines of the (Public Private Educational Facilities Infrastructure Act).”
Both the mayor’s plan and the Rebkee proposal have been criticized for negotiating deals with private developers on projects that include public properties without an open bidding process.
Kim Scheeler, one of the mayor’s biggest supporters as president and CEO of the Greater Richmond Chamber, asked of the Rebkee proposal, “Why would the city hand over this valuable property without seeking proposals from national firms in order to assure maximizing its potential?”
Rebkee President Robert W. Hargett said last week that his company would welcome an open bidding process for the Boulevard property.
Baliles’ resolution focuses on city control of the Loving properties, not their eventual use. “Let’s just get the land and then we’ll figure out what to do with it,” he said.
Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell, 8th District, also plans to introduce a stadium-related resolution tonight. Her proposal calls for an advisory referendum that would let voters weigh in on the question of whether the city should fix up The Diamond rather than build a new stadium.