Squirrels president is worried over ballpark timeline
Richmond stadium may not be ready by 2025 league deadline
The Richmond Flying Squirrels are worried that a new stadium may not be ready by April 2025 as needed to meet new Major League Baseball regulations, according to the Minor League Baseball team’s president and managing partner, Lou DiBella. In a statement Tuesday, DiBella said that there has been “very little progress” from the city and its chosen development team toward getting a new stadium built on time.
“Since the Diamond District was announced, there has been very little progress for plans for a new stadium,” DiBella said. “Much needs to get done, but we are out of time to meet the requirements of Major League Baseball. This is not about your Flying Squirrels wanting a new ballpark. If there isn’t a stadium built that meets prescribed MLB guidelines, is suitable for professional baseball, and is worthy of the great city of Richmond, there will be no Opening Day 2026 in RVA.
“Sadly, with imminent deadlines looming, we cannot be confident that the future of the Squirrels in Richmond is secure. The next three or four weeks will be critical with respect to moving forward in the hometown that we love.”
DiBella referred to MLB’s new requirements for MiLB stadiums that must be met by the start of the 2025 season — or else the city will lose its team. The state of the aging Diamond, which was built in 1985 as home of the Triple-A Richmond Braves team, has been a persistent problem for both the Braves, who relocated to the Atlanta region in 2008, and the Double-A Flying Squirrels, who moved to Richmond in 2009 amid promises of a new downtown stadium plan that failed. The Virginia Commonwealth University baseball team also plays at the Diamond.
In 2014, ownership of the Diamond was transferred from the Richmond Metropolitan Authority to the city, but Richmond officials didn’t take action toward replacing the Diamond until late 2021, under new stadium standards set by MLB in 2020.
The city’s last major announcement about the Diamond District took place in September 2022, when the city announced it had selected a joint venture known as RVA Diamond Partners LLC as the project’s developer. The group includes Richmond-based Thalhimer Realty Partners; Washington, D.C.-based Republic Properties Corp.; Chicago-based Loop Capital Holdings LLC; and San Diego venue developer JMI Sports. According to the city’s announcement, the group committed to purchase the first $20 million of bonds needed to finance the stadium. Since September, however, there have been no public updates on a construction timeline or design specifics on the new ballpark.
RVA Diamond Partners released a statement Tuesday night: “RVA Diamond Partners (RVADP) continues to work with city leadership and staff to finalize the legal, financial and programmatic details required to bring this bold and ambitious project to fruition. This work includes detailed programmatic and design discussions with both the Flying Squirrels and VCU for the new ballpark that will anchor the Diamond District.
“Our team meets regularly with the Squirrels, VCU, the city and our design and construction partners to ensure that we have a plan for a financeable ballpark that not only meets the needs of the teams and MiLB but delivers a fantastic fan experience through thoughtful integration with the public spaces, retail, residential, commercial and hospitality uses planned for the broader Diamond District.
“RVADP has committed itself to this project since the award in September, and we continue to work towards a groundbreaking as soon as possible.”
MLB’s new rules require that all Minor League stadiums include improved field lighting, better training facilities for players and larger clubhouses, among other standards. The Diamond also had to make about $3.5 million in renovations and repairs before the start of the season last week after an inspection, using funding allocated by Richmond City Council.
DiBella’s statement prompts questions about the larger Diamond District plan — a $2.44 billion project that would include a new ballpark, 2,800 residential units, 935,000 square feet of office space, 195,000 square feet of retail and community space, and two hotels. Although the new ballpark, which is expected to seat 10,000 and cost approximately $80 million, is the Diamond District’s centerpiece, the surrounding mixed-use development is the largest project in the city’s recent history and is expected to take about 15 years to complete.
The cost of the baseball stadium and public infrastructure will be financed with Community Development Authority (CDA) bond financing, the city said in September 2022, which would not require Richmond to repay bonds if there is a shortfall. Bond financing will be repaid with tax revenue generated in the 67-acre development property, including taxes on real estate, businesses, meals, hotel revenue and baseball admissions. Local portions of the state sales tax, lease payments and other revenue will also be part of the deal.
The city released a public statement Tuesday evening: “The city of Richmond is committed to completing this important, intentional project. While there is still some work to be done, RVA Diamond Partners and the city have been working tirelessly together to ensure we bring a stadium and fully realized development that lives up to its potential, provides significant economic investment, and delivers for our residents and the Squirrels. We look forward to creating a thoughtful area for residents to live, work, play and raise a family.”