It’s not going to be a very restful weekend for Richmond city council members, particularly Johnathan Baliles and Charles Samuels. Most councilmembers have not committed to vote either against or the proposed Shockoe Bottom baseball stadium, and the meeting that Baliles and Samuels hosted last night showed a relatively even split between supporters and opponents. On Monday (February 24th) the Council is slated to vote on Resolution Number 2013-R255, which is an expression of City Council’s general support for the plan (it should be noted that a committee has already recommended striking this resolution from the agenda, so it might still not happen Monday night). This vote is the first time that council members will have to publicly announce their support or opposition to the plan. Monday night’s agenda is available online here.
I was at the meeting last night, and spoke in opposition as a new Shockoe Bottom resident who wants more from the space than a small season of baseball (you can see the WTVR CBS 6 video here). Of course, the plan is more than baseball – it includes a hotel, a grocery store, high-end apartments, and a 30 million dollar slavery and heritage museum. But the baseball stadium is why it’s all happening – I wouldn’t mind some of the amenities that are now coming with the stadium, I just don’t think that space is best used for a baseball stadium whose future is uncertain. Baseball is an aging pastime, there is a lot of uncertainty about whether county residents would support and attend a Shockoe stadium, and over the 30 year intended lifespan of the stadium the decline of baseball is likely to continue.
Many of the folks speaking in favor of the stadium are young people, like myself, on the Shockoe Bottom and Shockoe Valley neighborhood associations. They see it as a way for Shockoe to diversify into more than just a club and restaurant hub, and I think also express some resistance to the idea that the past use of an area should determine its future use. It’s interesting, though, since very few people would probably suggest building a baseball stadium on a Holocaust concentration camp, or beside a veteran’s cemetery or battlefield park. There are events in our history that are universally acknowledged to be special and sacred (or desecrated) sites where normal activities should be carefully considered. And then there is the response to slave burial grounds, or slave quarters, or historic towns, and the response is so often “we can’t just let the past determine everything we do, we’d have no space to build.” However, unlike with the Holocaust and the Revolutionary and Civil War battlefields, there has been comparatively little local and national investment in commemorating and acknowledging the history of slavery in a way that allows that history to continue to be a feature on the landscape. The museum would be an important step forward in that goal, but I don’t like that it’s being used as a carrot to ensure the passage of a fundamentally flawed development plan.
There are a variety of other important aspects to this plan that others have weighed in on recently. My colleague Terry Brock, an archaeologist who just moved to Richmond, wrote an excellent piece about the archaeological process required before any construction will occur. Terry was also at last night’s meeting, and got a tentative confirmation from the City’s CAO Byron Marshall that the planned flood mitigation in the project will require the US Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA to approve the project, which will then make the project subject to Section 106 cultural resource mitigation standards. If this is indeed the case, the stadium plan may be subject to a large-scale Phase III excavation of the numerous resources Terry discusses in his blog. Such a mitigation would take millions of dollars and more than a year of excavation, plus additional time and money in artifact analysis, conservation, and curation.
Finally, as I was leaving a developer whose name I didn’t catch gave me a piece of paper with several links about baseball stadium projects in other cities, Baltimore and Ramapo, New York. In these cases, cities have taken on the fixed debt of a stadium with rosy tax revenue increases supposed to offset this debt. When the tax revenue projections turned out to be overly optimistic, the cities have been left on the hook for millions of dollars a year. This is a real concern with the plan, as another real estate developer mentioned to me after the meeting. It is interesting that these individuals were handing out pieces of paper with links and having private conversations instead of speaking publicly in opposition – I wish that Richmonders with these sorts of backgrounds were voicing their concerns more openly, to combat the impression that it’s only a few loud malcontents who oppose the plan.
I’ll be at Monday night’s meeting of City Council, as long as the resolution remains on the agenda. It will be interesting to see what transpires.