Henrico indoor arena heads for goal line
Updated Jan. 20
The proposed replacement of the Richmond Coliseum is stirring up strong feelings among elected officials and residents in the city, but a dozen miles up Interstate 95, a smaller arena in Henrico County is quietly moving forward.
Filling a need for indoor space to host high school basketball and other indoor sports tournaments and local indoor recreation sports leagues, the proposed 220,000-square-foot, 4,500-seat indoor sports arena is set to be built at Virginia Center Commons mall on the site of the former Sears department store, which closed in January 2019.
The county Board of Supervisors approved a $50 million public-private investment for the project, financed by a bond sale. In November, the board authorized purchasing the 25-acre site and entered negotiations with Richmond construction company The Rebkee Co., which submitted an $8.3 million proposal.
Rebkee was under contract to purchase the majority of the mall in early December, says Rob Hargett, the company’s principal and co-founder, and plans to demolish or repurpose the vacant Sears building.
In late January, entities connected to Rebkee and Chester-based Shamin Hotels purchased 76 acres, including the mall, for $12.8 million, according to a news report by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. After the purchase, the partners sold nearly 25 acres to the county for $8.3 million, including the former Macy’s, where the arena will be built.
Proponents say the arena could generate approximately $17 million in annual visitor spending, which includes meals and hotel and sales tax revenue.
A new hotel near the arena is also in the cards, with Shamin Hotels working with Rebkee on the redevelopment plan. The entire project, including the indoor sports center and hotel, will take an estimated five years. The goal is to open the indoor sports center by June 2022, and the hotel would be completed later, Hargett says.
The county expects to finish the facility planning by the end of 2020, and the operator will be chosen in the first quarter of the year.
Richmond-based nonprofit Sports Backers worked with Henrico County Recreation & Parks last year on an impact analysis report, studying similar-size facilities and markets, including those in Mobile, Alabama, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
“You will see significant sports tourism from the facility, but it will still have a very strong recreation mix,” says Jon Lugbill, director of Sports Backers.
About 20 to 30 weekends a year at the new arena will be dedicated to tournaments, Lugbill says. But there will be time available for recreation leagues in numerous sports, from gymnastics to fencing, and graduation ceremonies.