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On opening day, mayor applauds Flying Squirrels

RICHMOND, Va -- The Richmond Flying Squirrels open their 8th season calling the Diamond home, as talks about building a new ballpark continue behind the scene.

Long-time Richmond residents will tell you conversations about replacing the Diamond, the aging baseball stadium on Boulevard, date back to before the Squirrels arrived in 2010.

Last fall, the Flying Squirrels and VCU announced an agreement that will commit the minor league team to stay in Richmond for a minimum of 30 years once a new ballpark is constructed. The agreement stated the site would be near the city owned property where the Diamond currently sits, and cost of a new stadium would range from $50-60 million. The team and the university have agreed to take on the bulk of construction costs.

CBS 6 caught up with new Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney to find out the status of where discussion about a new ballpark stand. Stoney said his administration is focused on the Boulevard site, but that there is no timeframe for when a plan would be finalized.

"We’re still in a holding pattern. We’re going to work toward that end, and that’s where we want to go,” Stoney said. "I’ve always been a supporter, promoter, and proponent of the stadium on the vicinity of the Boulevard.”

The mayor praised the Squirrels as a “corporate citizen” that has invested in region.

Stoney said he has been in talks with leaders from Chesterfield, Henrico, and Hanover counties about how to get the project moving forward. Stoney would only say that he felt those discussions went well and that the counties appear willing to be at the table.

CBS 6 contacted officials with each locality to get their take. Hanover County declined to comment. Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas said they did not have comment right now, but that they are excited about opening night. Chesterfield County officials said they, "continue to support the many efforts the region has undertaken to enhance the Greater Richmond area.”

As for the team’s stance, Flying Squirrels C.O.O Todd “Parney” Parnell said they are focusing on the season, and trying to sell out their 8th straight season opener.

“We’re going to focus on our fans, and whatever happens with the ballpark, happens with the ballpark, and that’s certainly the case for 2017.” Parnell said. "We’re excited about the past, we’re excited about the present, and we’re excited about the long term future.”

Squirrels “superfan” Bill Anderson arrived at opening day four and a half hours before the first pitch. Like many fans, Anderson is hopeful the “new ballpark” conversation will be a mute point soon.

“The park has so many things that need to be updated,” Anderson said.

Still, Anderson said he enjoys the experience so much, he would follow the team to any venue in Richmond.

“Wherever the Squirrels go, people are going to come,” he said.