OPINION: Mayor open about Shockoe stadium plan

John Bates was the Managing Partner of  McGuireWoods LLP from 1989-1997. The retired partner practiced for 45 years in real estate development and economic development.

John Bates was the Managing Partner of McGuireWoods LLP from 1989-1997. The retired partner practiced for 45 years in real estate development and economic development.

RICHMOND, Va. – Some opponents of the Mayor’s plan for the Boulevard and Shockoe Bottom have alleged that the process was somehow done in secret, out of public view.

I have been involved in economic development for my entire 45-year law practice, and while I am not an insider in this project, I can state that from what I have observed and what has been made public, the process by which the project is being debated has been the most open I have seen.

These objections are probably being raised because the merits of the plan are hard to argue against. So let’s review the history.

Every citizen knows that the Braves left town because Mayor Wilder was unable or unwilling to provide them with a decent place to play. There is a strong sense in the community that we need professional baseball here.

When Mayor Jones was elected, he began working on ways to deal with the issue.

He asked his administration to give him available options, including renovating the Diamond, building a new facility on the Boulevard, or moving to another site.

Several years ago the administration announced that in addition to renovating the Diamond or building a new stadium at the Boulevard, there were two other sites to consider, one in Manchester and one in Shockoe Bottom.

There then began conversations in the media and on the street about the merits of each.

The Mayor asked his administration to carefully analyze each option and report back to him, fully comparing advantages and disadvantages of each. About that same time, Henrico and Chesterfield indicated publicly that they were not able to financially support renovations to the Diamond or the development of a new facility. They drove the point home by failing to authorize the RMA to plant new grass at the Diamond two years ago.

Since the City was now on its own, and since the demand for baseball was strong, the administration had to measure the options based upon what was best for the City. The project became an economic development project.

As such, much of the analysis at that point needed to be done out of the public eye, as in all economic development projects. Site control needed to be established and contract and commitments need to be obtained, none of which can be done publicly.

If you had some land and wanted to sell it, and suddenly you heard that the City wanted to put a grocery store or a baseball diamond on it, wouldn’t you increase the price?

A little over a year ago the administration stated that its study had come down to either building a new facility at the Diamond or in Shockoe Bottom.

The Manchester site had been eliminated because of lack of access, and renovation of the Diamond had been eliminated because of cost. After several months of careful analysis, the Mayor announced in November the results of the study.

In the comparison of building facilities at the Boulevard or in Shockoe Bottom the financial advantages of the latter were clear. In addition, that option gave the community the opportunity to both develop a long-sought slave heritage site at the center of the slave trade, and develop the then-vacant Boulevard site into high-intensity missed use, adding millions to the tax base.

But the discussion did not end there.

The Mayor and the administration have spent and will continue to spend innumerable hours explaining the plan to the public and answering questions.

Every member of City Council has had at least one public meeting on the plan, and more are planned. It is fair to say that no project in the City’s recent history has generated as much interest as this plan.

The discussion continues.

Neither the Mayor nor any member of City Council seeks to cut off debate or discussion. They are open to discuss any alternatives, and have considered several already.

According to statements from members of Council, no vote will be taken on the project for a couple more months. That will make it the most vetted plan in the history of the Commonwealth, don’t you think?

So let’s be fair, and give the proposal a discussion on the merits.

The process is not secret. The Mayor is not “disrespecting” anyone. Do we want baseball in Richmond? Do we want to develop Shockoe Bottom? Do we want to make a substantial investment in telling the story of our slave history? Do we want to give a boost to our tax base?

If so, how can we best do it? These are the questions we need to be discussing. As to the process by which we got here, I feel strongly that it has been open and fair.

To suggest otherwise wrongly distracts the debate and is not appropriate.

John Bates III 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. Bates’ comments.

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