by Paul Goldman
Are those opposed to a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom making a fundamental strategic error?
The Richmond Times Dispatch published dueling pro v con OPED columns on whether or not to build a downtown baseball stadium. Both were very well written, my congratulations to the authors. They condensed a complicated, wide-ranging set of issues into easy-to-understand, basic analysis.
But the anti-column struck me as making a glaring, possibly fatal error.
The “No” column did an exceptional job in making the anti-case against the two previous downtown stadiums. But that is yesterday’s news.
Shockoe Stadium 3.0, if proposed as expected by the Mayor, will be a newer, more strategically designed battle plan. Shockoe Stadium 1.0 and 2.0 were, in battlefield terms, a frontal assault on the anti-position, aimed at overwhelming the opposition by sheer force of money, political power and special interest influence.
The pro-side lost.But the anti-forces have apparently learned the wrong lesson from those two battles, much like the French in World War I.
With all due respect, the record shows that I was the one who killed the first downtown stadium plan, having been given the job of reviewing Shockoe Stadium 1.0 by then Mayor Wilder.
While I was best known as the campaign guy for Wilder and Warner, what was lesser known is that I have more graduate degrees in finance and other things than the top level of City Hall. So Mayor Wilder had me analyze it for reasons of expertise, not merely politics.
My expert conclusion: the financing plan, as they say in Texas, added up to “all hat and no cattle.”
The anti-posse had ZERO influence on my recommendation because Shockoe Stadium 1.0, like its sibling Shockoe Stadium 2.0 proposed a few years later, died on the financial autopsy table. Those proposing the project could NOT MAKE THE NUMBERS ADD UP ON PAPER.
We never got to the other issues raised by the anti-stadium posse.
My point being: the newspaper’s “Hell No” article is written on the assumption that the views of the anti-stadium posse influenced the rejections of the previous downtown stadium plans.
BUT THAT ISN’T THE CASE.
The anti-column gave nine basic reasons for killing Shockoe 3.0 if proposed – as expected – by Mayor Jones later this year.
(1) Possible “cost overruns.” This is always a legitimate concern with any project.
(2) The “use of tax-increment financing or bonds” on the grounds it benefits a small number of developers at the expense of future generations of Richmonders. This argument has been used against just about every project in Richmond. It is never a deal breaker.
(3) They warn against vague legal obstacles to using “new tax revenues from development along the Boulevard” to pay for the downtown stadium. In actuality, the anti-side hurts itself by this linkage since it focuses on a new reason to want a downtown stadium not part of prior downtown stadium plans.
(4) They claim Richmond isn’t financially strong enough to “extend large-scale credit on behalf of a project that would strain transportation infrastructure, necessitating additional major investments over and above stadium construction costs.” If the Mayor says the city can do it, the anti-posse can not win this argument.
(5) The city has higher priorities than putting money in a baseball stadium. In actuality, this is not an argument against a downtown stadium, but rather against building one NOW.
(6) They challenge whether it is possible to build a stadium in the Shockoe flood plain. The article presents no expert analysis. The Mayor will clearly not propose the stadium unless he has sufficient expert analysis saying it is possible. A “he said-she said” debate goes to the Mayor.
(7) They claim “interstate access in the Bottom is not what it is at the Boulevard and Manchester sites, and expensive upgrades will almost certainly be necessary. Cost overruns are practically an inevitability.” As they say in the law, “asked and answered.” The Mayor will be ready to address these issues from jump street.
(8) They cite economic studies showing that studies of 37 baseball stadium projects using public money all failed to produce the promised positive effects on local growth. Similar studies were available to the local government officials of the 37 jurisdictions. Why were they not impressed? These types of economic studies are never deal killers if the politicians decide they want a stadium.
(9) They argue it will inflame the African-American community because of the “historical uniqueness of Shockoe Valley to the history of slavery in America.” Last I checked, we have an African-American mayor, with a heavily weighted African-American administration. He will not propose Stadium 3.0 without FULL SUPPORT from Delegate Delores McQuinn, Senator Henry Marsh and other key player in preserving this history. “Occupy Richmond” type of protests will not be successful here.
In my view, the pro-stadium OPED successfully counters all of these nine thrusts, either with specific ideas or by smartly refusing to engage in a discussion.
Thus, the glaring error, the 10th point the anti-side left out:
The stadium is seemingly opposed by a clear majority of the people of Richmond. The anti-side never makes this argument. But in the final analysis, isn’t this opposition the most important reason not to build a downtown Stadium? The anti-posse never plays the democratic card.
If the Mayor kills the project, it will be on financial grounds. If he proposes Shockoe Stadium 3.0, it wins or loses on purely political grounds.
The pro-side seems to get it; the anti-side does not.
My read right now: The Mayor is comfortable with the financial/economic/locality benefit side of Shockoe Stadium 3.0. But he isn’t sure he has the rock-solid votes on Council to pass it due to the political currents in the city. Several members want to run for Mayor, others would normally back the Mayor but don’t want to get cross-wise with their constituents.
The anti-side therefore is potentially wasting its time seeing this as an intellectual battle. It is pure “where the rubber meets the road” politics.
I believe the Mayor is trying to get Governor McDonnell to put up some bucks for the stadium, as he did to keep the Washington Redskins from moving their corporate headquarters out of Virginia, the same for their training field. This will help with the politics.
Bottom line: The pro-stadium position is gaining support because the anti-stadium forces fail to realize their best argument – indeed likely their only ultimately persuasive argument – is the opposition of the public to a downtown stadium.
If it comes down to an arm-twisting contest, the Mayor likely has an upper hand. If it is decided in the court of public opinion, then the anti-side would have more leverage today.
Paul Goldman is in no way affiliated with WTVR. His comments are his own, and do not reflect the views of WTVR or any related entity. Neither WTVR nor any of its employees or agents participated in any way with the preparation of Mr. Goldman’s comments.