RICHMOND, Va. --City and county leaders all met on Friday and agreed on two things. First, they would like to see a new children's hospital built for the region on the Boulevard where the Diamond currently sits. Second, they want the Flying Squirrels to stay and are all committed to finding the team a new home.
Jones issued a statement late Friday afternoon, saying the Boulevard is the "preferred site" for all the localities and that there is a renewed commitment to that project.
The mayor is also suggesting the Squirrels meet with Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield leaders to decide the best place for the team that has easy access and visibility for fans.
"I walked out of that meeting today feeling extremely positive" said Flying Squirrels COO Todd "Parney" Parnell. "To have the entities that were all there, in one voice, saying 'This is what we'd like to do, this is what we decided to do as a unit as far as the boulevard space, yet, we love the Squirrels. The Squirrels have become an important part of the fabric of this community. We're not going to allow the Squirrels to go anywhere."
Eastern League president Joe McEacharn was also in the meeting, looking out for the interest of the biggest market in his league. According to Parnell, McEacharn helped get an additional year added onto the Squirrels current lease at the Diamond which now runs through 2017, to give the team an extra year to identify a location for a new stadium and possibly get one built, with any locality.
"Not only do we have a timeline and a gameplan, we also have synergy in the room." Parnell said. "I felt something in that room that I've never felt before."
This scenario assumes that the localities will be able to come together on a plan for a new children's hopsital, at a price tag which some have pegged at $1 billion, a much bigger endeavor than a $50 million dollar baseball stadium. And while this was the first time that city and county officials had pledged their support for a new home for the Squirrels, they have not yet reached the point to where any particular site has been targeted, nor have finances been discussed between the groups.
"Certainly, the financial information is going to be an important cog moving forward" Parnell said. "But the spirit in that room was very, very good about trying to figure something out."
Here's Jones' complete news release, which was emailed out at 6:15 p.m. on Friday:
“The conversation around a freestanding children’s hospital has driven a renewed commitment to regional cooperation among the City of Richmond, Henrico County, and Chesterfield County.
“Advocates for the hospital asked each locality for potential locations, and we each presented options. They have indicated the Boulevard is their preferred site.
“In recent days, I have met with Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas and Chesterfield County Administrator Jay Stegmaier to advance this important regional priority. This includes agreeing to a process to identify alternative locations in the region to ensure that the Richmond Flying Squirrels have a permanent home.
“Today, we met with representatives of the Squirrels and the President of the Eastern League. We agreed that the Squirrels should meet with all localities in the Richmond area to explore potential locations that have easy access and visibility for Squirrels fans.
“The Squirrels agreed to work with each locality to identify a site by the end of this year. To demonstrate the region’s commitment to the Squirrels, I propose to extend their current lease on the Diamond through the end of 2017.
“We agreed on an exploration process that will consider site selection options, financing opportunities including private investment, potential construction schedules, and that recognizes the financial constraints our localities are facing. We committed, together with our regional partners, to work with the Squirrels. Ultimately, the Squirrels will identify a site that best fits their needs.
“The Squirrels are a great asset for our region, and they are woven into the fabric of our community. When they came to town six years ago, they changed how our region experiences minor league baseball. They showed us that it’s about having fun, enjoying family time, and celebrating our community. We all know the community wants them to stay here forever.
“I believe this renews our commitment to an open and comprehensive approach to advancing regional priorities, starting with the children’s hospital.”