With a Richmond City Council vote looming, the administration of Mayor Dwight C. Jones is leaving itself some wiggle room on the precise number of votes needed to build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom.
At a town hall meeting Wednesday night, an audience member asked how many votes the plan would need.
“It depends,” Chief Administrative Officer Byron C. Marshall replied. “For issuing debt, we need six. For amending the budget, you need six. If you were to sell land, you need seven. If you were to change zoning, you need six.”
The precise legal mechanisms for carrying out the project are not yet known, but the administration appears to be keeping the door open to a scenario in which no city-owned land in Shockoe would be sold, which would only require six of nine council votes rather than the seven long assumed to be the threshold.
The modified Shockoe development resolution, which is expected to come up for a council vote on Monday, states that land acquisition would occur “by purchase, lease or such other form of transaction as may be satisfactory to the EDA,” subject to the approval of the chief administrative officer. The administration is seeking council authorization to continue those negotiations, which would presumably result in a clearer picture of how the land deals would play out.
The question was asked Wednesday in front of a standing-room-only crowd that turned out to Albert Hill Middle School in the Museum District for a joint meeting hosted by Council President Charles R. Samuels, 2nd District, and Jonathan T. Baliles, 1st District.
The tone of the event was civil yet divided. The meeting drew a larger contingent of supporters than has been seen at previous town halls on the subject, though there was loud applause for both sides of the debate.
Supporters portrayed the development plan, which would transform the Bottom and the Boulevard, as bringing a much-needed infusion of vitality and tax revenue that will help move the city forward while keeping an eye to the past.
Opponents characterized it as an ill-conceived scheme that could turn out to be a drain on taxpayers while enriching a select few business interests.
Justin Ayars, a self-described millennial and owner of a downtown restaurant, said the city needs to have an eye toward the future while not forgetting what came before.
“People of my generation are not going to want to stay here, let alone move here, if this city considers change to be a four-letter word,” Ayars said. “It is not.”
Attendee Wayne Ellis said he supports the idea of developing the Boulevard but is concerned about subsidizing the county residents who would come to a baseball stadium built by the city. Ellis said that when he plays at Belmont Golf Course, he has to pay more than Henrico County residents.
“They never end up paying their fair share,” Ellis said.
Ellis asked if the city could impose a surtax on non-city residents or a discount for city residents. Marshall said that was not likely to be possible, adding that if the Richmond Flying Squirrels profit off county fans, those fans are helping to pay for the stadium. The team’s annual lease payment of $1.7 million would help pay down the debt service on the bonds financing the stadium.
In an opening speech that echoed his recent State of the City address, Jones called his proposal a “good business decision” that would generate new revenue and create jobs.
“The cost of us doing nothing is going to be a high price to pay,” he said.
Neither Samuels nor Baliles indicated which way they might vote but said they plan to do so based on input from constituents and all the information available.
Samuels asked for a round of applause from all corners for Jones and his staff for taking part in 15 to 20 community meetings on the development plan throughout the city.
After pushing unsuccessfully last year for a voter referendum on the ballpark location, Samuels noted, jokingly, that attendees who asked for a referendum to be held got some of the loudest applause.
“Where were you last July?” he said.
The modified resolution is scheduled to be heard by the council’s Finance and Economic Development Committee today at 3 p.m.
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