HOLMBERG: Baseball in the Bottom, shopping district for the Boulevard?

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) — Building a new baseball stadium in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom sounds oh-so five years ago, which is the last time the plan fell apart.

But a new version of the old plan is gaining some serious traction, and it could turn Richmond upside-down.

The mayor’s office is crunching the numbers on a concept that would relocate the Flying Squirrels into a new stadium in the Bottom, just as the train arrives for a massive facelift for the Main Street station and the Farmer’s Market.

Stadium development there would require that the land be built up to get it above the flood plain. That could open up further development in that long, low portion of the Bottom where Shockoe Creek used to run before it was turned into an underground sewer.

But that’ s not the bottom line.

What’s also pushing this plan would help pay for it – a complete revisioning for the area surrounding the old ballpark on Boulevard, considered to be some of the most promising real estate in the area.

Tear down the Diamond as well as the much-underused Arthur Ashe Center, a failed tennis facility built 30s ago and make it a shopping destination.

No, they’re not looking for a Wal-Mart there. We’re talking stores like Trader Joe’s, shopping a la Stoney Point. Sixty acres of mixed retail, office and residential anchoring an old industrial area that has seen much better days. The blocks across the street from the stadium have numerous vacant and rundown buildings, including one owned by the city.

The area already has the museum and theater traffic, so there’s almost unlimited potential for development.

And I’m hearing there are developers already at the table, licking their chops.

But will the Squirrels be a draw in old Shockoe Bottom, where mainly younger people live? The vast majority of those attending games now come from the ‘burbs.

Does VCU baseball want to play down there? And you know the Sports Backers don’t want to rip up their deluxe facility or be left alone in a retail jungle.

And there are historic issues in the Bottom, a place already plagued with parking problems.

Why not go ahead and tear down the Ashe Center and develop around a new stadium on the Boulevard? That what 2nd District City Councilman Charles Samuels would prefer.

He said a ballpark in the Bottom would face stiff opposition.

“My quick tally doesn’t show there’s votes for that right now on City Council,” Samuels said. “But I think it’s important that we look at any plan that’s proposed to make sure we understand the pros and the cons and we’re not just looking at one side of it, but that we get the good, bad and the ugly.”

But supporters of this plan, which include the leaders of Venture Richmond and the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, say this is the best way to invigorate two crucial districts and, at the same time, pay for a good bit of it.

And Samuels says the city has dragged its feet long enough on building a new baseball stadium. He doesn’t want to see the Squirrels going the way of the Braves.

If this idea becomes a proposal – and I’m hearing the mayor is definitely leaning that way – bet on this becoming one of the most contentious stories of 2013.

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