by James A. Bacon
I’m heartened to see someone on the Richmond City Council ask tough questions about big headline-grabbing deals. Councilman Jon Baliles (son of the former governor) has raised substantive issues about Mayor Dwight Jones’ proposal to build a new baseball stadium for the Flying Squirrels in Shockoe Bottom. In particular, the analysis upon which the mayor’s proposal is based makes different assumptions about parking, a major public expense, when contrasting competing stadium locations on the Boulevard, where the current, aging stadium is located, and in Shockoe Bottom.
In announcing the proposal last month, Jones contended that putting the stadium in Shockoe Bottom would trigger significant development in Shockoe Bottom and free up space on the Boulevard for re-development. All told, he said, the project could generate up to $187 million in property and sales tax revenues over 20 years, far more than the $80 million public investment required to build the new stadium, structured parking and flood-drainage improvements.
Baliles addressed several concerns Friday in a letter to the mayor. The Times-Dispatch then devoted major coverage to Baliles’ critique in its Saturday coverage here and here. In the main article, reporter Graham Moomaw focused on the parking issue. The mayor’s analysis of the development potential of the Boulevard site, just off Interstate 95, assumes that placing the ballpark there would consume 29 acres of available land for the parking lot, leaving only 32 acres for development. Yet the Shockoe Bottom plan calls for building structured parking for the stadium on only seven acres.
If the Shockoe location can support structured parking on seven acres, why couldn’t the Boulevard location? After all, the city’s vision is to develop 960,000 square feet of office space, 780,000 square feet of retail and entertainment, plus medical offices, a conference center, a hotel and 1,048 apartments on the Boulevard. Says Baliles: “You could have a parking deck that served the business world during the day and sports fans, shoppers and residents in the evening.” Could that mixed-use development not support structured parking in the same way that mixed-use development in Shockoe Bottom could?
The question goes to the heart of the Boulevard proposal: If structured parking were feasible on the Boulevard, that would free up an extra 20 acres or so for re-development, making the location far more lucrative for the city than under the surface-parking scenario.
Chief Administrative Officer Byron C. Marshall told Moomaw that the city had considered a parking deck on the Boulevar but concluded that it would have to build the deck itself at substantial cost or wait for a private developer to do it. The latter option would likely push out of reach the city’s goal of building the new stadium by 2016. “At full build-out,” he said, “if you could get an office tenant and even maybe a mixed-use tenant in that southwest portion, you could, at that point, use less acreage. … The question is when? Who? That’s conceptual. We actually have a concrete plan for the Bottom. That’s the difference.”
Excuse me, but the mayor’s plan calls for building a stadium in Shockoe at substantial cost, too. If the stadium is to be built by 2016 in order to keep the Flying Squirrels happy, the city will have to build the structured parking either way. What’s missing from the mayor’s analysis is an apples-to-apples comparison of the Boulevard and Shockoe Bottom sites using the same parking scenario.
Perhaps an apples-to-apples analysis still would show Shockoe to be the preferred. I’m totally OK with that. Unlike an apparent majority of Richmond metro residents, whom polls show favor the current stadium location, I really don’t care. I just want to maximize the return on investment of taxpayer dollars. City Hall needs to analyze comparable scenarios for both locations. Then let the best site win. Kudos to Baliles for digging into the numbers and demanding answers.There are currently no comments highlighted.