RICHMOND, Va. – We try to be an honest commentator in this space, doing the best we can with what we got.
So let’s start with a truth what passes for journalism and editorial writing in this area refused to say, for whatever reason, Mayor Jones has been misleading city residents for months on his true intentions relative to baseball in Richmond.
He repeatedly promised to present an apples to apples comparison between proposals for baseball at the Bottom v. baseball on the Boulevard. He and his administration consistently maintained they had not made any decision, yada, yada, yada.
Unlike the usual whiners and apologists, I did what experienced policy people do, I wrote a bipartisan letter along with Delegate Manoli Loupassi questioning whether, in fact, what the Mayor had promised – a chance for the public to compare and contrast two competing proposals – would in fact be the case or would it really be the case of City Hall appearing to give the people a choice even though the decision had be de facto already made.
Mayor Jones tried to throw Manoli and I “off the scent” as they say in Virginia fox country.
He wrote us a letter, leaking it to the press.
“My goal is to bring to the public a detailed plan for consideration,” Jones wrote. “I assure you that you too will be advised of whatever proposal I bring forward to the public. I look forward to the opportunity to have an informed discussion at that time.”
But of course, as I suspected, he did no such thing.
Indeed, his use of the word “plan” as opposed to plan, in hindsight, was perhaps carefully chosen although seemingly a response to our wanting to be sure the public would have plans to compare for baseball in the Bottom v. baseball on the Boulevard.
DOWTOWN BASEBALL TRUTH # 1 – NEVER ANY INTENTION TO PROVIDE 2 RIVAL PLANS
There never was any intention of giving you, the public, a true chance to make an apples to apples comparison in terms of two competing plans for your “informed” consideration. NEVER.
DOWNTOWN BASEBALL TRUTH # 2: CITY HALL INFLUENCE PEDDLERS HAD INSIDE KNOWLEDGE
I will make this bet with you based on everything I know about politics and have read on the stadium, those with connections to City Hall all have a piece or are getting paid by those want baseball at the Bottom, and not baseball on the Boulevard.
They say Virginia’s state laws are lax on these things, Richmond laws are non-existent.
ALL THIS KIND OF MONEY requires baseball in the Bottom. This is not to say any of this is illegal or unethical by our laws or modern standards.
This is further not to say I have some magic potion to stop it. I am just stating a plain fact, when the Mayor was telling YOU that YOU would have a chance to be part of the discussion, the smart money had already bet the “ranch” on baseball at the Bottom.
To be fair, reporter Mike Martz and others let you know that while City Hall was saying no decision would be made until the public had a fair chance to choose between two competing plans, this simply was all for show, the real truth lay in the fact the Mayor had already decided and was lining up the horses and all the King’s men.
DOWNTOWN BASEBALL TRUTH # 3 – CITY HALL IS WRONG, THE STADIUM ISN’T FREE
Having been the one person in the city in 2005 willing to take the lead in exposing that plan to give the people a “free” stadium in Shockoe, let me be the first to do what the mainstream media refuses to do once again. City Hall is simply selling “wolf tickets” in claiming the stadium is free, although they at last don’t use that term. However, this is what they do say which amounts to same thing:
“And this plan is essentially self-supporting,” Mayor Jones said.
This is politician talk for claiming all the promised goodies will not cost taxpayers a dime, that all the “new” revenues and private contributions will pay for all the costs incurred by the public sector.
But this claim of a “free stadium” isn’t anymore true today than it was in 2005.
Indeed, the Mayor’s people actually admit the truth in their “financial analysis” by pointing out that the only way you get a “free” stadium is to take a good chunk [how much isn't clear from their "financial analysis", it might be close to most if not al of it in the final analysis] of “new revenues” generated AT THE BOULEVARD BY NEW DEVELOPMENT and use it to off-set the costs of whatever is going to be required for the Shockoe bottom baseball proposal!
Indeed, to make the Shockoe baseball stadium fly, it will take, among other things, $30 million in alleged private investment to provide the political cover for Delegate McQuinn to break with her allies who have long opposed any such Shockoe proposal on the grounds it desecrates an historic site intertwined with African-American, indeed American history, unique to Richmond.
DOWNTOWN BASEBALL TRUTH # 4: JONES-MCQUINN “HERITAGE” CLAIM BULLDOZES HISTORY
With all due respect to the Mayor and the Delegate, they are under such pressure from those with $stars in their eyes that they have become blind to reality on the historic issue. I do not doubt their sincerity for a minute. But it is clear they “rushed” out their plan last Monday because, at least as I read the RTD reporting, they feel they have a way to get millions of dollars in state funding for what they want to do if they put on the pressure now.
Admittedly, this is my read of this part of a recent RTD story:
“McQuinn said she also has been talking with McDonnell and his administration about the project. She said the governor has talked about a possible $10 million contribution in the two-year budget he will propose next month. What isn’t clear is whether McDonnell’s support is for the heritage site pitched by the city or the national museum that Wilder has sought to build for so long.”
I read it as a power-play by Jones and McQuinn to get $10 million in state money for their local project given the transition period right now between the out-going and incoming Governor.
But what Jones and McQuinn have in mind doesn’t really tell the full “heritage site” story as they would have YOU, THE PEOPLE, think.
Indeed, their plan seems to be based on a quid-pro-quo trade-off with certain commercial interests, as opposed to a true “what is in the best interests of history” approach.
To me, this is baffling except for the politics.
McQuinn wants Senator Marsh’s job and needs the Mayor’s help, along with his political machine or at least she thinks she does. So I get the electoral politics, even admire McQuinn’s political play here from a pure 200-proof campaign standpoint, she is winning a lot of powerful political friends and donors by showing her willingness to break with many former “tell the full history” allies.
But does what they propose make sense for Richmond?
DOWNTOWN BASEBALL TRUTH # 5 – JONES-MCQUINN “HERITAGE PLAY” WILL COST OUR KIDS
Let’s be clear.
As I predicted years ago, the “deal” on the Downtown Arts Center would cost the city a lot of money unless it did it right. I caught hell from certain parts of the business community, which ganged up on me as is well known, for saying their plan would bankrupt the city unless it was scaled back, that they couldn’t afford it so who would be left picking up the tab?
Fortunately, they changed the construction part according to my recommendations.
I warned about the operation side of the Arts Center proposal, saying that the city better watch out or they will get stuck paying a lot of that bill. No one listened and so the city is now paying hundreds of thousands of dollars toward the operation expenses of the Arts Center through a very generous deal signed after I had left city service.
THE SAME THING COULD HAPPEN WITH THE PROPOSED JONES-MCQUINN “heritage site” proposal.
The construction side is going to be more costly than they conceded, indeed this is clear by the RTD story. But more importantly, who is going to pay for the “operational side?” The money to operate such a site is going to be very large, and as the Arts Center found out, that money is hard to come by through merely selling tickets, etc. What is the expected operational side revenues for the project and will they cover the operational side expenses?
There is nothing in the financial analysis that I see which addresses all the necessary factors for such an analysis, indeed has it even been fully considered? The Mayor says his not engaging in “speculations. This is not wishful thinking,” Jones said. “This is not a case of build it and they will come.”
Except, the type of “heritage site” they want to build has NO PROVEN ABILITY TO ATTRACT THE TYPE OF TOURISM THEY CLAIM.
Logic suggests that the public will want a far more – for lack of a better term – “full-on” all in compassing museum type of venue to spend those tourism dollars the mayor says is in the bag for Richmond with his plan.
Can I prove he is wrong to a moral certainty as lawyers say? Of course not.
But he is talking about raising the kind of money that it took to build the Arts Center without necessarily the friendly type of financing I showed them how to do [admittedly, others were just as knowledgeable and would have seen it or did see it, I just happened to publish it first as part of the City of the Future plan.]
So you sink a lot of money into construction, into what it takes to make things ready for tourism, and then what happens if they don’t show?
As indicated above, you have a huge FINANCIAL HOLE, as the Arts Center found out on the operational side, surely at the beginning since it is going to take time for people to think “Richmond” on this stuff. There would seem to be a need to a slavery museum dedicated to the telling of that history, but what’s being proposed is a long way from that.
Thus, based on what we know from prior stuff in Richmond, there is a good chance the Jones-McQuinn “heritage site” approach may bleed MANY MILLIONS from the city budget. Where is that money going to come from? Based on what City Hall and City Council have been doing in recent years, they will further cut SCHOOLS!
The Mayor talks about curing poverty. How is that possible when you are not fixing the schools?
This isn’t to say more money means better education per se, the issue is far more complicated. But at some point, surely it will taking PUTTING EDUCATION FIRST. Not putting a downtown baseball stadium first, surely not using it as a way to get Jones-McQuinn something they feel is politically good for them but not maybe for a whole lot other people.
DOWNTOWN BASEBALL TRUTH # 6: JONES WRONG ABOUT STADIUM “CRUMBLING”
The Diamond was built in 1985, the average school in Richmond built in 1955.
The Mayor and City Council don’t seem to be in much hurry to fix the school facilities, since I gave them a first step and outline on how to set the city on a path to fix this school issue 2005, which they passed in 2006, but have done….what exactly with seven years later?
This isn’t to say it will be easy.
But earlier this year, I published a piece discussing how there were ways to modernize all the oldest elementary and middle schools in the city although I kept some of the details for later since it amounted to my Plan B if Plan A didn’t work out.
It is doable, but Plan B is my default position, Plan A would be better for the nation as a whole, so I want to give it one more run up the Congressional flagpole since I am hopeful the president will sign and Governor-elect McAuliffe is a big booster.
The Diamond therefore can hardly be “crumbling” if the Mayor and his allies don’t feel a 1955 is equally in danger of crumbling and requires such an urgent fix. Moreover, the Mayor is wrong, the Richmond Braves left town for a lot of reasons, and the Mayor doesn’t know the whole story about their attempt to get the city to build a boondoggle of a Shockoe Bottom stadium.
Yes, the Diamond is the second oldest operating Class AA baseball stadium in America, the oldest being the one in Reading, Pennsylvania. That ballpark is being preserved as a historic 1950’s era venue. So yes, The Diamond is de facto the oldest Class AA park in America. But it is still a very useful park with appropriate modernization, the structure isn’t in danger of “crumbling” any time soon.
Moreover, the surrounding counties are mad, to some degree, with the fight over expanding the RMA board, and a host of other issues which are unfortunately making the baseball stadium decision harder than it should be. But the stadium isn’t “crumbling,” indeed the Squirrels are making a lot of money at The Diamond, attendance is up over what the Braves were doing.
Class AA baseball has few AAA-rated areas like Richmond.
Getting the Squirrels a more modern facility is surely something our community should support. Did the Mayor privately promise the Squirrels a new stadium away from The Diamond area? I don’t know, although I did a radio show earlier this week where the issue seemed to be somewhat clouded in terms of just what the Squirrels were possibly told that we, the people, were not. I make no charges or claims here.
Except this, having been involved with discussing the Richmond Braves situation, the Mayor is simply oversimplifying when he says they left on account of The Diamond. As someone involved at the time, this isn’t true for reasons which I really can’t discuss any further.
DOWNTOWN BASEBALL TRUTH # 7 – JONES-MCQUINN “HERITAGE CLAIM” ANTI-DIAMOND PLOY
Let me be clear. My position has been clear from “jump street.” The decision on whether to have baseball in the Bottom or baseball at the Boulevard is too important to the future of Richmond to trust it to City Hall and City Council along with their retainers angling for all the “cake” as they say. This seems to me to be proven by the following logical analysis.
According to the Mayor and the Delegate, they say there is $30 million in private dollars to be raised for their heritage site. Let’s assume that is true. Thus the next question, why is the $30 million only available if you build a Shockoe baseball stadium?
Notice the Mayor and the Delegate have never said the $30 million is contingent on a downtown stadium have they? NO. Why? Because this would imply there is no support for their heritage approach, but as a quid-pro-quo with developers and others.
They can’t say that, since it would not only degrade the importance of history but make them very suspect of “selling out” others in the African-American and history-oriented community for a baseball stadium. Thus, they have cleverly connected their “heritage site” with the Shockoe stadium without actually saying one is dependent on the other.
Very clever. So we get to the next logical question:
Since the $30 million is for the historical piece, then why isn’t the Mayor and the Delegate supporting baseball on the Boulevard? Think about it. They would then get the $30 million PLUS all the historic land would still be available to tell the history they say must be told!
Why are they supporting the bulldozer?
Again, think logically.
According to what they say, the $30 million is there. David Hicks says he and the Mayor and City believe Richmond is the place where the heritage story must be told. Then why are they bulldozing the history when they have $30 million to tell the story WITHOUT THE BULLDOZER?
The logical conclusion – they rushed out without their plan on Monday to use the “heritage site” as away to make baseball on the Boulevard seem anti-African American. Indeed? Richmond history! This is why they didn’t also issue the promised competing Boulevard plan because it would have had to contained A SHOCKOE PIECE the same way their baseball in the bottom has to allude to development on the Boulevard.
DOWNTOWN BASEBALL TRUTH # 8 – MAYOR KNEW RICHMOND MEDIA ALL TALK, NOT WALK.
With all due respect, the Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial board spends all summer and fall promoting the candidacy of Robert Sarvis for Governor and then, in the end, punts totally on choosing the next Governor, can’t make a hard call for the top job in the state? In effect, they told Richmonders not to bother thinking it mattered who got elected Governor. Really!
The Mayor realizes the Richmond media is basically docile, afraid to challenge him on anything even when he has misled the public on such a major issue. The fact he misled the public doesn’t mean ipso facto that Shockoe is wrong for baseball or that the Boulevard is right for baseball.
THEY ARE TOTALLY SEPARATE ISSUES.
The job of journalism, from the founding of the constitution which CINO – conservatives in name only – forget, is to challenge the government “spin.” Why do you think we have a First Amendment, so you can look at porn in all its forms? Read your history. The British government’s attack on the free colonial press and its reporters is why we have the First Amendment, not so you can sex text. Now, thank goodness, Justice Holmes and others expanded the first amendment in to new areas and rightly so. But fear of government bullying, corruption, lying, extortion, and the like against average taxpayers and citizens is why Madison and his friends added the Bill of Rights as a requirement to get the Constitution enacted [remember, the boys in Philly didn't include it in their draft!]
Give the Mayor credit: he knows pasties when he sees them.
DOWNTOWN BASEBALL TRUTH # 9 – RIGHT NOW, THE FINANCIAL NUMBERS DON’T ADD UP
We have not been given the data necessary to determine whether the top line rosary scenario – it’s free folks, all the money required will come from “new” revenues not otherwise available but for the Mayor’s proposal – is “all hat and not cattle” as they say in Texas.
My policy is to give the Mayor the benefit of the doubt right now, he surely has done a lot more homework as has his folks than others in developing a plan.
But for example, supposedly the Squirrels are going to pay $1.7 million every year for the next 30 in lease payments. This is roughly 6-700% higher than they currently pay, it would be the highest rent by far in Class AA baseball to my knowledge.
However, then we are told this huge staggering amount includes VCU’s contribution as a sublease tenant. We aren’t told the extent of VCU’s payment.
But this in turn raises another question.
As I read the financial analysis coming for the Mayor’s people, all the lease payments from the Squirrels are considered “private investment.” Is that the right read? VCU is a public school, supported by taxpayers.
Why does their PUBLIC MONEY magically become PRIVATE MONEY when it is in effect given to the Squirrels to then PASS IT THROUGH to the city? This is very shaky financial ground to call such funds “private” at least it would appear so without us having more information, which may be coming admittedly.
Or take this point, the Mayor says the stadium has been in effect obsolete since the Braves decided to find another home. The Diamond was roughly 20 or so years of age. The Mayor says his “self-supporting” plan pays off the Shockoe stadium bonds [assuming they are issuing bonds] in roughly 20 years. But there is NOTHING that I saw which takes into consideration the huge expense of replacing the Shockoe Stadium since by the Mayor’s reasoning, it will now be obsolete! If a new stadium today will cost $40-50 million, then a new stadium then could cost $80-100 million indeed more!
You will be long gone to Florida presumably, and the rest of Richmond will have this rusting, obsolete, “crumbling” as he would say, eyesore in the middle of the City, our “landmark” to fellow Americans going by on the interstate, telling folks when they get home about this town in Virginia whose proud of having the oldest, junk Class AA baseball stadium as it’s “welcome sign” to the world?
But like I say, let’s see all the fine print first and learn how much of the alleged “new revenues” are merely what economics call cannibalized “old” revenues with a fancy new label.
DOWNTOWN BASEBALL TRUTH # 10 – JONES’ CLEVER ANTI-BOULEVARD BASEBALL STRATEGY
The reason there was never going to be any comparable development of a pro-boulevard baseball presentation, the reason the “heritage site” stuff was rushed forwarded as it was this past Monday is clear to anyone who has ever run a winning mayoral campaign, the Mayor had to figure out a way to get around the polls saying Richmonders wanted to keep baseball on the Boulevard.
That is the key takeaway for me.
If the Mayor honestly believed his plan could stand equal scrutiny, and if he wanted the people to believe this plan isn’t being pushed so that a lot of well-connected political people could benefit, then he would have put an apples to apples comparison plans on the table for a transparent, open debate.
But he couldn’t take that chance and figured the City Council didn’t have enough people willing to truly call his bluff. Thus, he went with his baseball in the Bottom only pitch to put his plan on Top, to force all the discussion to be about the bottom or nothing.
A masterful play if you ask me.
BOTTOM LINE SO FAR
Mayor Jones is an eloquent spokesman for his point of view, he is very capable of defending his position without needing such an unwarranted advantage. As I have written, there are advantages to baseball at the bottom as well as baseball on the boulevard, public policy decision often require making sure the invisible “perfect” choice doesn’t become the enemy of a good solution.
But “stacking the deck” on something this important to the future of Richmond, something this important to telling a history so crucial to not just one race but a whole country, a whole people who are as Lincoln said united and indivisible, is simply the wrong way to get the right decision.
Before the Council goes any further, the body needs to insist on fairness and that the Mayor keep his promise. If the Council really had the guts and the interests of the people at heart, then they would tell all the money changers that they had best give unto Caesar what was Caesar and give to the people what they had been given by their Creator.
I am not smart enough to know what is the right decision on baseball for Richmond. But I do consider myself knowledgeable enough to know that on this decision, unique and special as it is, the public should all get an equal vote, in an advisory referendum, so the final choice will not be something forced on the city by a handful of influence peddlers who are friendly with City Hall’s temporary residents.
Business folks are not required to advocate for anything but their self-interest and in American, this is generally the bottom financial line.
We elected representatives to protect the public interest, and that goes for their employees and other retainers.
If they spent 1/10 the time actually trying to provide the education need to help solve poverty as they have on this latest Shockoe scheme, the kind of “bait and switch” demanding our attention right now would have no way to gain any traction in Richmond.
Paul Goldman is in no way affiliated with WTVR. His comments are his own, and do not reflect the views of WTVR or any related entity. Neither WTVR nor any of its employees or agents participated in any way with the preparation of Mr. Goldman’s comments.