RICHMOND, Va. -- Two Richmond mayoral candidates held press conferences Tuesday afternoon, following an earlier announcement from the current administration that the city, the Richmond Flying Squirrels baseball team, and Virginia Commonwealth University had reached an agreement that would keep the minor league team in Richmond for a minimum of 30 years, once a new ballpark is constructed.
Actually, it could be said that Joe Morrissey reached out to the press about a 1:30 p.m. conference at the Diamond, current home of the Squirrels, and Levar Stoney crashed it.
Stoney said he happened to be driving down the Boulevard, saw the event, and decided he should also be a part of the conversation.
Morrissey, though he supports the idea of the Squirrels staying in Richmond, rejects the use of public funds for the latest baseball stadium project.
"I will not support professional sports projects with city funds no matter how camouflaged," Morrissey said. "The Diamond was built in 1985. The average public school in the City of Richmond was built in 1955."
"Thus it is obvious that we need to focus on modernizing the schools before spending public money on a new baseball stadium," he continued. "It is time we had a Mayor who will stop using public funds for professional sports projects when this money has long been promised to modernize our schools."
The deal is estimated to cost around $55 million but so far the city has been silent about how the stadium would be financed. The city only stated that a "memorandum of agreement" has been signed and that there are ongoing discussions among parties that may include the Commonwealth of Virginia, City of Richmond and other localities, private developers and investors -- among others.
Morrissey believes he is the only candidate who has consistently said he won't use taxpayer money for "professional sports complexes."
The statement is a direct challenge to candidates Michelle Mosby and Jack Berry, who have on record supported the city's involvement in a previous Shockoe Bottom baseball stadium plan. However, Stoney, speaking Tuesday after Morrissey left, said that he also does not support prioritizing sports over fixing schools.
“I don’t think Mr. Morrissey understands the deal in the first place,” Stoney said, and then continued to compare his opponent to Donald Trump. “He is a grandstander, that’s what he does and what he is doing this afternoon.”
Stoney said he is pleased to see others at the negotiating table for this new proposed deal. “If it gets the city out of the baseball business, I’m all for it," he said.
“Three hundred thousand dollars a year for maintenance right now? That’s how we got in trouble with schools in the first place, [and we]just keep on paying and paying," Stoney continued.
Stoney said he supports the city finding a private deal in which the private sector pays or takes liability.
"We shouldn’t be in the business of baseball, we should be in the business of investing in our schools," Stoney said.
When asked about the appeal of baseball generating revenue for the city, Stoney pointed to the promising 60-acres of land to be developed along the Boulevard and also emphasized that he supports a baseball deal where counties pay their fair share – but that the city shouldn’t be on the hook.
Stoney, as the former Secretary of the Commonwealth for Governor Terry McAuliffe, said he was part of behind the scene conversations regarding this memorandum of understanding and previously helped to get multiple parties to the table.
When Morrissey was asked about Stoney's unannounced appearance Tuesday, he said that he is used to establishing the agenda and that it was nice to see Stoney follow his lead.
CBS 6 reached out to other mayoral candidates to find out where they stand on the new stadium.
Mayoral candidate and current Councilman Jon Baliles , who was a vocal opponent of the Shockoe Bottom plan, said that "it's encouraging to see VCU and the Squirrels working on this issue."
"However, we need better priorities at City Hall," he added. "We should focus on establishing dedicated funding for schools and improving those facilities first before we discuss the city’s role in building a baseball stadium.”
Candidate Lawrence Williams maintains that the Sports Backers Stadium should be used for the new baseball site. "The City gives up potential real estate tax revenue for schools when the ABC property and Sports Backers Stadium property both remain playing fields," he said. Williams believes the stadium should be multi-use and the Virginia Union University should be able to play football there. You can read more about his outlined proposal, here.