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Update: Shockoe Bottom plan draws protesters

Update: Shockoe Bottom plan draws protesters

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RICHMOND -- If Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones thought the inclusion of a slavery memorial would dampen the opposition to building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom, he learned firsthand today that his critics don’t plan to turn down the volume just yet.

The mayor and other speakers were repeatedly heckled this morning during the unveiling of a large mixed-use development plan anchored by the ballpark, which several dozen protesters characterized as a misallocation of resources and disrespectful of the area’s historical ties to the slave trade.

But the mayor called Shockoe the “right location,” saying that the new heritage site would preserve an important piece of the city’s history and that the ballpark would generate more tax revenue for the city that could be used for schools, transportation and other city priorities.

“This will be the best ballpark in minor league baseball,” Jones said to a large crowd at the corner of 17th and East Grace streets, which the mayor said is where home plate would eventually lie.

As presented, the plan would involve more than $200 million in investment, with more than $125 million coming from private development and an estimated $79.6 million in costs to the city. Capital One executive Steve Gannon has been tasked with raising $30 million for the slavery heritage site.

The precise financing details have not yet been made clear, but city officials have made assurances that the new tax revenue from the development would cover the costs incurred by the city.

Jones had a key ally in Del. Delores L. McQuinn, D-Richmond, who spoke in support of the plan as chairwoman of the Slave Trail Commission.

“I believe that this is the one chance we have to honor our history in a big way,” McQuinn said. “And I’m excited about it.”

At various points in the presentation, the crowd of protestors chanted “Shame!” and “No stadium on sacred ground!”

Protestor Paul Dolci said the stadium would be “a huge disrespect” to African-Americans.

“I think that’s too little, too late,” Dolci said of the memorial concept included in the plans.

Protestor Kendall Perkinson, who held a sign that asked “Where’s the referendum?” said he wasn’t a “sacred ground person,” but he thinks its important for the city to decide on the ballpark together.

He pointed to a recent Richmond-Times Dispatch poll that found that 67 percent of respondents favored keeping the ballpark on the Boulevard compared with 22 percent support for the Bottom.

“If they ask Richmond whether they want a baseball stadium in the Bottom and Richmond says yes, I’ll step down,” Perkinson said. “But until then, no way.”

The Richmond City Council is expected to get its first look tonight at a resolution laying out the ballpark plan, with several detailed ordinances to follow.

-- Graham Moomaw

Posted at 11:30 a.m.:

RICHMOND -- Mayor Dwight Jones was heckled by protesters during this morning's announcement of a $200 million Shockoe Bottom development that will include a new minor league baseball park.

The downtown ballpark has been criticized for its potential impact on a nearby slave burial ground and the history of the slave trade in the Bottom.

Jones said proponents of the project need to listen to the critics.

“They have a right to say what they are saying,” Jones said. “We will make sure that the story of this area will be told.”

He said at least $30 million will be raised for a slavery and freedon heritage site that is part of the proposed development.

Jones said the development will generate 400 new jobs and 1,000 construction jobs in a city that needs them.

(This has been a breaking news update. Check back for more details as they become available. This morning's story from the Richmond Times-Dispatch is posted below.)

Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones is expected to weave his personal story into the city’s historical ties to slavery today as he makes his pitch for a Shockoe Bottom development plan that includes both a baseball stadium and a heritage site to commemorate what was one of the largest slave markets in antebellum America.

The long-anticipated Shockoe plan, which would involve private and public investment of more than $200 million, also includes a Kroger grocery store, a Hyatt hotel, 750 apartments and a parking deck, according to prepared remarks and other materials provided to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, but the slavery memorial is a key component that could defuse some of the opposition to a ballpark in Shockoe Bottom.

Though the mayor has avoided wading into the debate, his speech today will provide his first public retort to the historians and activists who have argued that a sports facility would desecrate a site where the slave trade once thrived.

Jones is expected to draw a connection between the mixed-race descendants of the Lumpkin’s Jail owner and the founding of what would become Virginia Union University, the historically black institution that brought Jones to Richmond more than 40 years ago.

The mayor is expected to call the heritage site “deeply personal” and say that Richmond’s slave history is “a story our community needs to tell, and one future generations need to understand.”

City officials estimate that the development plan could generate up to $187 million in tax revenue over the next 20 years, which officials say is roughly double the estimated revenue that would come from a new stadium on the Boulevard.

The project carries an estimated public cost of $79.6 million, which would include the new home stadium for the Richmond Flying Squirrels and extensive public utility improvements in an area that has a long history of flooding.

“We’re excited about the future,” said Todd Parnell, the vice president and chief operating officer of the Flying Squirrels.

City officials estimate private investment of more than $125 million, which includes apartments on both sides of East Broad Street, the hotel and grocery store and the parking deck that would be developed on the north side of the road.

The new ballpark, which Jones is expected to liken to Baltimore’s Camden Yards, would hold 7,200 seats in a sunken bowl with a wraparound concourse and be flanked by apartment buildings. A promenade proposed for the current site of the 17th Street Farmers’ Market would extend from Main Street to the stadium’s southern entrance.

Capital One executive Steve Gannon is expected to head up an effort to raise at least $30 million for the creation of the slavery heritage site, which is envisioned as a “dramatic, interactive memorial” and will involve both Lumpkin’s Jail and the African Burial Ground. City officials are also expected to name a steering committee for the site in the coming weeks.

The development would encompass 10 to 12 acres on both sides of East Broad Street. On the south, the ballpark and adjoining apartments would lie between Broad and East Franklin and East 18th and Ambler streets. The additional apartments, hotel and grocery store — in a single complex — along with the parking garage would lie north of Broad on the west side of 17th Street and just beyond Clay Street.

Revenue from the ballpark and private development, including additional property and sales taxes generated by the improvements, would be dedicated to paying off the public debt — a concept known as tax-increment financing. Office development could come later, but city officials say the financing would not depend on it.

“The financing will work with what we have,” said Lee Downey, director of economic and community development.

Tammy D. Hawley, the mayor’s press secretary, said future office development would be handled by Highwoods Properties, which would develop the Kroger grocery store north of Broad Street. “The office component is still a real possibility,” Hawley said.

Highwoods is the primary developer of Innsbrook Office Park in western Henrico County and one of the developers in the last attempt to build a baseball stadium in the Bottom as part of an unsuccessful economic development plan in 2008. That project, introduced under then-Mayor L. Douglas Wilder and inherited by Jones, died because of financing concerns.

Jones is expected to contend that the taxes from the new development and revenues from the ballpark “will cover virtually all of the costs, thus requiring little support from city taxpayers.”

He’s also expected to list three criteria that weighed heavily as he considered the ballpark location: which site creates the most jobs and expands the tax base, whether it can pay for itself, and whether it can be ready for the 2016 season.

The Jones administration has concluded that Shockoe offers the greatest financial benefit, partly because it also opens up 60 acres on the Boulevard for development.

Though the Bottom’s gritty reputation is a concern for some baseball fans, the plan’s backers say the development will help change the perception.

“These projects will attract families with children on a regular basis and transform the image of Shockoe forever,” predicted Jack Berry, executive director of Venture Richmond, a downtown booster organization that came out in favor of a stadium in the Bottom last year.

Jones generally outlined the project Friday for the organization’s board of directors, which he leads as president.

“Venture Richmond will be one of his strongest allies in promoting the projects in Shockoe,” Berry said.

Tonight, the City Council will be given a resolution encompassing the conceptual plan for the project. The ordinances that would lay out the details of the arrangement are expected to follow later.

The details of the financing for the proposal, including the sale of naming rights, won’t become public until the Jones administration completes ordinances that will give the specifics of development agreements for carrying out the project, city officials said. Still undetermined, for example, is whether the Richmond Economic Development Authority will act as the city’s agent in developing the property, as it did in the construction and financing of the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Facility this year.

Those ordinances also will include transfer of city-owned property on the south side of Broad Street that will require approval by seven of the nine members of the City Council for the project to proceed. The rest of the property is privately held, primarily by the family that owns Lovings Produce and the developers that purchased the former Weiman’s Bakery property last spring.

Shockoe-based developers David J. White and H. Louis Salomonsky, partners in SWA Architects, purchased the half-acre Weiman’s property. White and his son, Brian, will develop the residential components of the project, including 200 apartments flanking the ballpark and 550 on the north side of Broad Street.

McFarlane Partners LLC, based in South Richmond, will develop the Hyatt hotel on the north side of Broad, where a 1,700-space parking deck also is planned near the off-ramp of northbound Interstate 95.

The mayor is expected to publicly unveil the plan during an 11 a.m. event at 17th and East Grace streets.

A schedule of public meetings on the Shockoe plan will be announced in the coming days.

(804) 649-6839

Twitter: @gmoomaw

(804) 649-6964

Metro Reporter


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