Richmond mayor asks real estate group to support downtown revitalization plan

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Print this page By Paula C. Squires

Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones didn’t waste an opportunity Wednesday to urge members of Richmond’s commercial real estate industry to support his downtown revitalization plan, which calls for a new baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom.

“I ask for your help in making sure we get a positive vote from the council to move this thing ahead,” Jones told the Richmond chapter of Commercial Real Estate Women.  CREW’s luncheon at SunTrust Bank in downtown Richmond drew about 75 people who came to hear the mayor’s overview of the RVA revitalization plan.

The plan has drawn questions from civic groups and city council members. The full council is scheduled to vote Feb. 24 on a new resolution submitted by Jones that seeks council support for “continuing negotiations” on the plan as the city continues to respond to questions about parking, financing and other details.

Jones said the plan is about “jobs and economic development designed to generate as much new tax revenue as possible by unlocking the potential of two major undeveloped sites.” By building a new baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom, the city could mitigate some of the conditions in what is a 100-year old flood plain while freeing up the current 60-acre site now used for a stadium on the Boulevard.

If the city doesn’t build a new stadium, Jones says it runs the risk losing its Class AA, Eastern League team, the Flying Squirrels.  “When they came, promises were made that we would find an adequate facility for them to use. The Diamond is antiquated and needs to be replaced.  It makes no sense to use 30 acres of a 60-acre plot that could be income producing, for the city to leave that for the uses of baseball,” Jones said.

He said the city would need about two years to build a new stadium. “That’s why we’re pushing for a vote. We need the stadium by 2016.”

Jones’ new resolution sets a March 27 deadline for land, development and parking agreements to be set.  “I want to keep professional baseball in Central Virginia in a way that benefits Richmond the most,” he said.

Besides the stadium, the mayor’s plan calls for 750 new apartments, a 100-plus-room hotel, a 55,000-square-foot grocery store, 10,000 square feet of retail and a site that commemorates the area’s slave trade history.

In a city with a 26 percent poverty rate that faces other challenges such as improving its schools, Jones said, “We can address our problems in a small way or a big and bold way … If we seize this opportunity, it would be absolutely revolutionary, and it’s a plan that would revitalize our city.”

In addition, he said his plan comes at a time when momentum has been building for Richmond as an attractive, livable city. Frommer’s travel guide recently put Richmond on its list of Top Destinations for 2014, noting the city’s historic attractions, food and the James River.

Last year brought the opening of the new Bon Secours Washington Redskins summer training camp, a development that Jones said sparked $10.5 million in economic impact after the first year. The city also is revamping Main Street station into a multi-modal transportation center, and the city  is investing in the riverfront to provide more pedestrian access.

Asked about the international cyling championship bike tour coming to Richmond in 2015, Jones said the city is preparing by spending millions for infrastructure improvements to ensure that roads along the bike route are in good shape and “that there are no blighted houses that will be shown on international television.”

The final route for the tour will be announced next week when International Cycling Union (UCI) representatives will be town. “This race hasn’t been in the U.S. for 25 years,” Jones said. “The Richmond brand will be in homes all over the world.”

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