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Squirrels Stadium Controversy - Is It About Baseball or Strategic Development?

An Old Blog Post from November 2011

This is a blog post I wrote on my "old" blog, www.melissasavenko.typepad.com, on November 2, 2011.  The debate about where to put a new baseball stadium in the City of Richmond continues to rage on. 
The article on the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch is about the fact that at the series of public hearings conducted about what sort of development should happen on the Boulevard, the public overwhelmingly favored baseball on the Boulevard.
But consultants hired by the City insist retail and commercial development ONLY on the Boulevard is the "highest and best use" of the Boulevard.  
Backdoor way to get baseball moved to Shockoe Bottom?  Or perhaps Manchester?  I have no idea.  But to refuse to consider an alternative solution, which incorporates a new or renovated baseball stadium together with an appropriate amount of retail and commercial development around it, that is stubborn and foolish and disingenuous. No wonder the citizens of the City are so mistrustful.
My solution, if I was Queen of the World, has always been:  
  • Tear down the Diamond;
  • Tear down that hideous, awful eyesore, the Arthur Ashe Center; and
  • Tear down the Sportsbacker Stadium.
THEN, when you have 60 acres of bare dirt to work with, build it out with retail and commercial AND a multipurpose stadium.
DONE.
Thanks very much, I am happy to accept one half of the fee you are paying these out-of-town consultants.  To give you a solution that has been advocated for for over five years.  
Require the stadium to be part of any development deal.  Open it up to RFPs from around the country, even the world, to develop this parcel.  Make the process transparent to the public. Select the top three contenders, have a deeper dive into their proposal, get public input on the three proposed ultimate solutions, then have City Council vote to accept the best of the three proposals.
DONE.
Unfortunately, something tells me this is NOT how this process is going to go, especially if the City ihas a flawed - intentionally flawed? - economic analysis as the starting point.
Sigh.  There is so much good stuff going on in the City of Richmond.  I personally believe most of those good things are DESPITE, not BECAUSE OF, City government.  The City could f*ck up a one car freight train, excuse my French.
So read this blast from the past, which I almost feel like could have been written today.  And if you want to see more about my past rantings and ravings about the City and baseball, feel free to peruse my old blog entries here.
Lordy be.  Here we go again. 
There are articles, and editorials, and letters to the editor, about whether or not "Richmond," which really means the Richmond Metropolitan Authority ("RMA"), made up of Richmond, Henrico, and Chesterfield, should contribute the money to build a new stadium for the Squirrels AA team.  If they won't commit to building a stadium, there are rumblings that the Squirrels will go away. 
Major public reaction seems to be: "Tough noogies. Who cares what the community promised to lure the Squirrels here. Times are tough. That money should be spent on ______ [insert your favorite cause here: education/roads/downtown development]." I should also note that it appears from a very unscientific review and poll that the vast majority of the letter writers and commenters are from the counties. Shocker.

Here's the Letter to the Editor du jour:

I may not be the target audience for the Richmond Squirrels.  I'm just a casual baseball fan who will go out to see the local team a couple of times a year.
This year, I went near the end of the season, when the club was trying to make it into the playoffs. The stands were not full.  I also went to the first home playoff game, and again the stands weren't full.  I fail to see how a new ballpark will increase attendance after the novelty wears off.
I had an enjoyable time at the game, and it didn't matter that the Diamond isn't state-of-the-art.  But I will object strongly to subsidizing a new building just for the sake of keeping this or any other team.
I think people are missing the point.  It's not about the Squirrels per se.  It's about committing to strategic development in a specific part of the City that has the greatest possible likelihood to leverage additional private investment in the City.  A successful City of Richmond is the rising tide that will raise all boats.  Even though Henrico and Chesterfield will never believe that.
And by the way, my recollection is the Shockoe Bottom Stadium proposal was about exactly that, driving private investment in the area and how the cumulative effects of a new baseball stadium would benefit the City. So people who wanted a Shockoe Bottom Stadium can't talk out of both sides of their mouths, and claim in their proposal a new stadium would be an economic driver, but a few years later and in a different location, a new stadium would be an economic suck. 
I'm sure this debate is going to continue.  I think next I am going to lay out the reasons a stadium on the Boulevard is the right strategic investment.  And if you want more background on why I felt then the Boulevard was the right place, or more accurately that the Bottom was the wrong place, there are a bunch of old posts on the topic.  Go wild. 

- Melissa

(804) 986-3993

Email:  melissa@mikemelissa.com
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