RICHMOND, Va. – First Mayor Jones promised a “free to the people” stadium in Shockoe since allegedly the bonds issued to finance the construction would be paid off by new tax money generated by all his promised new development projects.
As we showed here, that didn’t make it “free.” It turned out to be 100 percent publicly funded by YOU THE TAXPAYER. And it turned out his numbers did not add up.
Now, we have learned in today’s RTD story – “Developers offer to build Boulevard ballpark” – a group of yet unnamed folks has promised their version of a “free to the people” Boulevard Stadium saying it would be 100 percent privately funded.
You know the rule your momma taught you, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
In 2005, another group of developers promised a “free to the people” stadium to Mayor Wilder built with 100 percent private money. The Mayor asked me to check out their free lunch.
It turned out there were tens of millions of dollars in PUBLIC MONEY to be used to help pay off the stadium bonds through the dedication of public tax money collected in sales, meals, property, ticket, gross receipts, and other PUBLIC TAXES.
Moreover, the developers were demanding concessions in terms of land use and control worth tens of millions in public dollars to them as part of their deal to build a “privately funded” stadium.
Mayor Wilder killed the plan because the “100 percent” private stadium would actually cost WAY TOO MUCH public money, although not in a direct stadium subsidy.
Fast forward to 2014.
I am not saying this is true again, the RTD story doesn’t contain the necessary details. It might be a great opportunity for the city.
But this much should be clear this morning:
There is a very useful wisdom in giving the public an opportunity to provide their elected representatives with their opinion on the baseball stadium issue through an advisory referendum allowed by the City Charter.
Ace Richmond Free Press reporter Jeremy Lazarus actually scooped this “new” baseball stadium proposal weeks ago. Ace Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Graham Moomaw added some new stuff this morning, letting us know that our City Council members and the Mayor have actually known about this plan, at least again in general terms, for many months.
According to the Mayor’s office, they have been aware of this new proposal for a while. “What we’d like to see is solid financials” they said.
Who can disagree with that? According to Mr. Bobby Ukrop, a backer of this new proposal, “all the money is coming from the private sector.”
BUT THAT ONLY BEGS THE QUESTION.
Truth is, today’s story only further proves the point I’ve made for months, the baseball stadium debate remains way too mired in secret, back-room wheeling and dealing.
WE, THE PEOPLE, are cut out.
That is why I believe an advisory referendum on the ballot this November is the fairest, most transparent and helpful thing we can do in the short term.
I have been tough. yet fair, in my analysis of the Mayor’s Shockoe Stadium proposal. I intend to be equally tough, yet fair, to this new Boulevard proposal.
In gathering signatures for the two stadium-related referendum proposals now being circulated, I can tell you this, the level of public unhappiness with the current process is huge and growing, from all sides.
The story today further questions the soundness of the Mayor’s Shockoe plan. Yet this Boulevard Plan has its limitations too, as the Mayor’s office pointed out.
There IS NO PERFECT PLAN, choices must be made.
This is why I again ask the Council and the Mayor to reconsider their opposition to using their unique power to put an advisory referendum on the ballot. The Charter gives them broader authority to craft the question than it gave me.
We all want what is best for Richmond. Given the situation, an advisory referendum, the first since 2003, is clearly in the city’s best interest.
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.