Baseball on the Boulevard will come to a close in just two years, under an ambitious plan unveiled by Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones to put a baseball stadium complex in Shockoe Bottom.
Mayor Jones stood near the corner of 17th and Grace streets, where he says home plate will be for the 2016 Richmond Flying Squirrels season under the Revitalize RVA proposal unveiled Monday. The proposal would bring in $10 million in net tax revenue a year, according to the Mayor, almost double what he says be created at the Diamond.
"This will be the best ballpark in minor league baseball, with every possible amenity. That's a dramatic improvement over these crumbling parking lots, where the flood plain has kept this area untouched for decades," said Jones.
In addition, the plan calls for 750 apartments, a full-size grocery store and a 200-room Hyatt hotel. Jones noted the City has already secured letters of intent from developers behind those projects.
"How can we live, how can we work and how can we play together?" asked Mayor Jones. "The Diamond is crumbling. Our neighbors in the county are saying they can't help replace it. We've already lost one team because of it and I'm here to say we aren't going to lose another team."
Jones said the Bottom ballpark would create more jobs, expand the tax base to a greater extent and pay for itself to a broader degree than baseball on the Diamond. The project would create 1,000 construction jobs and 400 permanent jobs, Jones said.
"Shockoe is the right location," said Jones, who compared the project to similar efforts in Durham, Baltimore and Denver which have revitalized the surrounding areas.
The Shockoe Ballpark will contain 7,200 seats, mostly in a sunken bowl and will be flanked by apartment buildings, a 360 degree concourse, and dramatic architecture, including a flying roof, according to the Mayor's press release.
Jones says visitors would enter the complex would from a plaza on Broad Street, or from From Franklin Street via a new 17th Street plaza. While parking is often sited as a concern, Mayor Jones said there are currently twice as many parking spaces in walking distance of the site than the Diamond and 1700 new spots will be created. Jones noted that festivals at the Farmer's Market already draw upwards of 15,000 people.
As for the Boulevard, Mayor Jones said he anticipate community conversations to decide what area will look like.
Jones appears to have broad support for the plan, with City Council President Charles Samuels; Council woman Ellen Robertson, who represents the district; and Del. Delores McQuinn, who heads the Slave Trail Commission, all on hand. The mayor also read a statement of support from Senator Tim Kaine, who lives near the Diamond and once served as Richmond Mayor.
Protesters on hand shouted down the mayor repeatedly during his speech, despite Jones' pledge to build a $30 million center dedicated to the area's slave trading history as part of the project. Steve Gannon with Capital One has agreed to lead the community fundraising effort for the Slavery and Freedom Heritage Site. A Steering Committee is expected to be named in the coming weeks to advance the plans for the site.
"We are going to make sure that the story of this area is fully told. We want everyone to know what happened in Richmond a long time ago," said Jones. "We are committed to moving forward immediately with detailed designs that will commemorate Lumpkin's Jail."
"I've prayed over and over and over again that god would send support and help and assistance to the Slave Trail Commission for our mission," said Del. Delores McQuinn. "There's a real opportunity to see an amazing vision come to fruition."
Around 200 of the propose 750 new apartments would be connected to the ballpark, while another 500 would be located right across Broad street. They would be developed by David and Brian White, who have contributed a number of other residential projects in the Bottom and around the city.
A full-size, 65,000 square foot Kroger grocery store would end a food dessert in the area, according to the Mayor. A Farm Fresh at 23rd and Main streets is the only full-sized grocery store nearby.
The project is far from a done deal. City Council still needs to sign off on the project and pass a number of rezoning bills to make the concept possible. A separate bill is before City Council Monday night to allow the City to take control of the land currently on the Boulevard for the Diamond site.
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