Squirrels’ opening day renews pitch for new ballpark

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) — Opening day for the Richmond Flying Squirrels marks another season at the Diamond — and a renewed pitch from fans for a new ballpark.

“It bothers me a little bit because we’ve proven over the last couple of years that we’re here to stay with the Squirrels,” said Shelly Brown.

“I’ve seen what they’ve done with the team and what they’ve brought to the city,” said Chad Painter. “More business is more money.”

Governor Bob McDonnell had a hand in the deal to preserve the African Burial Ground in Shockoe Bottom and the Redskins new training camp on Leigh Street, but it looks like the governor will steer clear of the controversial baseball stadium project for the Flying Squirrels.

CBS 6’s Sandra Jones went to the State Capitol to get some answers, but his office declined an on camera interview. However, spokesperson Jeff Caldwell did provide a statement.

“The state has not gotten involved because it is a regional discussion about locating the stadium, not an issue with attracting new investments or adding jobs, which is where our efforts usually come in,” said Caldwell.

Across the street at City Hall, CBS 6 headed to the Mayor Dwight Jones’ office to find out if the baseball stadium is a priority. The mayor’s press secretary, Tammy Hawley, sent this response:

“You’ll recall the mayor made it a priority upon taking office to get baseball back in Richmond and succeeded. A new stadium is as well a priority for him and he has been diligent on the matter and expects to succeed in this endeavor as well,” said Hawley.

Hawley said the city leveraged its assets to pay for the Redskins’ $9-million training facility. A new stadium would cost $50 million and require regional help from Henrico and Chesterfield. The city designated funds for its part of the cost in last year’s budget.

“The financing for the project has to be worked out and is what is being worked on,” said Hawley.

However, one Flying Squirrels fan is optimistic about what it will mean for the Redskins to train in Richmond.

“I’m hoping that maybe the revenue that the Redskins will bring in and their families and all that kind of stuff. Maybe, that will push the city to get something for the Diamond,” said Brown.

Lou Dibella, the owner of the Flying Squirrels, said the team’s presence is year-round in the city — and that they hire a lot of people.

“We are great corporate citizens. Our focus is on the team and we’re committed to staying in Richmond,” Dibella said.

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