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Mayor: Proposed downtown development will pump $600 million into Richmond schools

RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney's planned billion-dollar redevelopment of downtown Richmond would not only change the landscape where the Richmond Coliseum now sits, but also provide an influx of cash to Richmond Public Schools.

The mayor announced Friday he would ask Richmond City Council to direct 50 percent of surplus revenues from the project toward the city's school system. He estimated that figure to be around $600 million over 30 years. In addition, 15 percent of the surplus would fund Richmond housing programs and one percent would go toward the arts.

"By dedicating significant portions of the surplus revenues this project will create to our top priorities of education, housing opportunities and arts and culture, we are following through on my commitment that this project will truly be the greatest economic empowerment project in our city’s history," Mayor Stoney.

The remaining 34 percent (or $400 million) would go into the city's general fund to pay for roads, police, fire, and other services.

Earlier this month Mayor Stoney announced Dominion Energy CEO Tom Farrell would lead a group to redevelop the area around the Richmond Coliseum -- known as Navy Hill.

NH District Corp.'s $1.4 billion proposal would replace the Coliseum with a 17,500-seat arena and redevelop the 10-block area bounded by North Fifth, East Leigh, North 10th and East Marshall streets with 2,800 new housing units, including 2,520 market-rate apartments and 680 income-based units, and a 23-story, 527-room Hyatt Regency hotel to serve the convention center.

Plans also call for preserving and redeveloping the old Blues Armory building with a 20,000-square-foot food court plus entertainment and event spaces, replacing the GRTC transfer center along Ninth Street, and re-use of sites filled with outdated city buildings.

At $1.4 billion, Stoney said the overall investment would be the biggest economic development project in city history, to be funded in large part through the establishment of a tax-increment financing (TIF) district, in which real estate tax revenue from new development in the district would be used specifically to pay for the project.

It's that excess money, Stoney said Friday, that would help transform the city and improve the lives of Richmonders.

"I believe the 21,000 jobs, nearly 700 units of affordable housing and the more than $300 million in opportunities for minority business the Navy Hill project will create already provides tremendous economic opportunities for our residents," the mayor said. "But I’m just as excited about its potential to generate significant revenues we can use to build a world-class educational system, to improve housing opportunities for all our residents and to invest in art and cultural projects that tell our full and complete history. This type of project will truly enable us to build ‘One Richmond.'"

The mayor was flanked by Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras when he made the announcement.

"Starting in 2023, this revenue will allow us to rebuild at least another half dozen schools," Kamras said. "That means thousands of children will have a beautiful, modern building to walk into every morning. Of course, this doesn’t solve our facility challenges, nor does it address our immediate need for more instructional dollars. But it’s a significant step in the right direction."

Not all Richmond School leaders were as enthusiastic.

"This new wrinkle in the Coliseum proposal is what I would characterize as the 'if you believe this plan then I have some swampland in Florida to sell you,'" Richmond School Board member Jonathan Young said.

Mayor Stoney has yet to submit any ordinances to Richmond City Council to consider about the project.

"While I will fully vet the Navy Hill proposal with the community and council, I would strongly support the mayor's proposed allocation of the largest portion of the anticipated revenues to be generated by the project to go to our public schools, followed by housing and core services," Richmond City Council Vice-President Cynthia Newbille said.

"I look forward to reviewing this proposal carefully to ensure it delivers all it promises," Richmond City Council President Chris Hilbert said. "This is a very positive development in this process and I welcome the mayor’s decision to pursue this avenue."

RichmondBizSense contributed to this report.