Talk about playing hard ball. Several people opposed to the mayor’s plans for a ballpark in Shockoe Bottom spoke passionately to city council members on Tuesday.
More than a dozen people, a majority of them opposed to the ballpark in the bottom, took to the podium to plea with city council members to keep baseball at the Diamond.
“The vast majority of baseball fans want baseball to stay on the Boulevard, where it is right now,” one opponent said
This was the first public hearing since Mayor Dwight Jones pitched the $200 million economic development plan last Monday. The plans includes a 7,500 seat stadium for the Richmond Flying Squirrels , a slave history and heritage center, as well as a Hilton hotel, Kroger and apartments and office space.
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Some argued that the mayor has sought little public input for the project, and said that Tuesday’s three o’clock public hearing was an inconvenient time for people with jobs and families.
Opponents questioned safety, traffic and congestion issues in Shockoe Bottom and the economic vitality of the multi-million dollar public/private investment. They say baseball shouldn’t be a priority when the city’s education, transportation and poverty issues aren’t being addressed.
Phil Wilayto, editor of the Virginia Defender, says the mayor didn’t deliver on his promises regarding the Redskins training camp facility, and says the ballpark plan could meet a similar fate.
“There was no benefits to the city, the surrounding businesses reported very little increased traffic and retail sales, according to the daily newspaper, sales were actually down in August over the year before,” Wilayto argued.
The historical significance of Shockoe Bottom was also a topic of discussion. Opponents say the land where hundreds of African American slaves were sold, imprisoned and died, is sacred and shouldn’t be desecrated with slabs of concrete.
Several city leaders, including Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall, argued the Shockoe Bottom plan would provide the greatest long-term economic benefit to Richmond.
Marshall says the plan is expected to generate $187-million over 20 years, or $10 to $12 million annually in tax revenues that would repay the city’s investment and would continue to generate funds for schools and transportation, as well as serve as a catalyst for building a slave-heritage center.
Marshall says the plan also unlocks development potential of 60 plus acres on the Boulevard.