The endless at-bat over ballpark
Baseball team told it can go anywhere but home
While Richmond’s foray as host of the Road World Cycling Championships seems to be on track, the direction of its effort to replace a 30-year-old baseball stadium — The Diamond, home of the Flying Squirrels, a Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants — remains unclear.
Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones proposed a plan to build a new baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom, a historic area near a slave burial ground. That idea drew the ire of critics who described the site as “sacred ground.”
Under the Shockoe Bottom plan, which was paired with commercial development at the site of the city’s current baseball stadium on the Boulevard, Richmond would be on the hook for $79.6 million, including infrastructure upgrades and a slavery memorial.
The mayor withdrew his proposal from council consideration last year when it appeared the measure would be voted down. After that, little movement on the stadium issue took place.
For many observers, the standoff recalled the situation faced by the Richmond Braves, the city’s Triple-A team for 42 years. The Braves departed for Gwinnett County, Ga., in 2009 after repeated pleas for a new ballpark went unmet.
Finally in June Lou DiBella, the Squirrels’ president and managing general partner, revealed his frustration in an open letter to the community. “Not only is our future uncertain, but efforts toward consensus have been replaced by political paralysis by analysis,” DiBella says in the letter.
In July, Jones made a new pitch. After consulting leaders in Chesterfield and Henrico counties, he invited the Squirrels to look at potential sites for a new home throughout the Richmond area. While setting a December deadline for finding a stadium site, he offered to extend the team’s lease at The Diamond through 2017.
The only place that Jones does not want considered is the Boulevard property where the current stadium now sits. The mayor believes the land has great potential for tax-generating development.
One possibility for the 60-acre property is a standalone children’s hospital, a cause championed by many area physicians. Richmond philanthropist William H. Goodwin Jr. and his wife, Alice, have offered to contribute $150 million toward the construction of the hospital. However, two early partners in the project, the Bon Secours and VCU health systems, have dropped out for financial reasons.