Why he is suing to challenge Diamond District financing: 'It's the people's rights'

Posted at 11:29 PM, May 16, 2024

RICHMOND, Va. -- The fate of a new ballpark for the Richmond Flying Squirrels is facing another hurdle.

A local activist, Paul Goldman, is now challenging the city in court over the financing of the project.

All parties involved in a lawsuit over the financing of a potential new stadium said they felt they walked away from Thursday's hearing with a win.

A judge did not block the city from using bonds to pay for the new ballpark. However, the judge instead gave another hearing so Goldman could present his case on why he believes a court should stop the funding of a project.

“They are trying to squash the people's rights. They’re asking the people to pay after they said they wouldn’t have to pay a dime. Now $280 million, the public’s on the hook, of course, they don’t want a referendum," Goldman said following Thursday's hearing.

He filed the lawsuit following the city council unanimously voting last week to approve the $170 million in bonds for the new baseball stadium.

It’s a project that is on a tight timeline to meet the MLB’s requirements for the Squirrels to have the new stadium operational by the 2026 season.

Goldman believes the city didn’t follow the law on giving citizens the required time to gather signatures for a bond referendum.

“It’s the people's rights," Goldman said. "The democratic council is trying to take away the voting rights of a non-white city. This is crazy."

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Paul Goldman

The city of Richmond’s attorney said the city followed all laws through the process and believes Goldman's claims are without merit.

City leaders said if the bonds get held up in court, the city would lose the $25 million for the project from a state sales tax rebate that expires July 1.

They said they felt confident the project won’t be paused though following Thursday’s hearing.

“We remain devoted to ensuring the baseball stadium gets done on time meeting the MLB deadline. The Grinch is back and he wants to stop the Squirrels being here for the long run," said Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.

City leaders say project milestones continue to be met.

They said the city council approved the proposal and passed the EPA approval this week. They are additionally finalizing the development and leasing agreement with the ownership of the Squirrels in the coming weeks.

Leaders reiterate residents should feel confident that the ballpark will pay off the bondholders.

That means they expect taxpayers will not have to be on the hook for the payments if the project doesn’t meet expectations.

“The risk is very, very low that this could fall to the city's general fund to manage," said Chief Administrative Officer Lincoln Saunders.

“The growth of Scott's Addition plus the attendance record of the Squirrels - if you put those together, we feel really good about what this project can be for the city," Stoney said.

A judge will hear Goldman's case in early June.

In the meantime, the city said they plan to continue to tie up all loose ends to get shovels in the ground by July.

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