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Shockoe Bottom baseball venue?

Group presents $58 million plan



A group of local businessmen and baseball enthusiasts is eyeing a new stadium site for the Richmond Braves in the city's bustling Shockoe Bottom.

The site is just north of Richmond's 17th Street Farmers' Market, south of Broad Street, between 18th Street and Main Street Station, according to City Hall sources familiar with the plan.

Some surface parking, restaurants, bars and shops are in walking distance. The Bottom is known for its busy nightlife, particularly on weekends.

The Richmond Ballpark Initiative briefed the City Council about the plan during an hour-long closed-door meeting last night. The council cited an exemption to Virginia's Freedom of Information Act that allows it to meet in closed session to discuss potential real estate transactions.

RBI showed the council a $58 million plan and a rendering of a proposed diamond on the site, said a source who saw the information. That dollar figure includes construction and land-acquisition costs.

The Weiman's Hearth Baked Bread and Loving's Produce Co. buildings, as well as at least one surface parking lot, are located on the site, according to the source. RBI's plans also show the potential for additional retail stores and restaurants, the source said.

In an interview after the council meeting, Jon Newman, a spokesman for RBI, declined to confirm or deny the Shockoe Bottom site or the $58 million figure. But he said the group is studying sites in Shockoe Bottom, South Richmond and an area near Ethyl Corp. and the Canal Walk.

Newman also declined to say whether the project would include shops and eateries. But he did say: "We have said all along that we are looking at it as an economic-development project, not just a stadium project."

The governing bodies in Richmond and Chesterfield and Henrico counties have already endorsed an $18.5 million plan to renovate the aging Diamond on the Boulevard. As envisioned, the renovation would include lowering the playing field to add seats, improving the sound system, adding and renovating restrooms and concession stands, and creating outfield berm seating.

RBI wants the city and counties to instead spend the $18.5 million on a new stadium. The initiative is considering raising private donations to pay off debt on $40 million in bonds for the project, a source said.

Newman has repeatedly declined to identify the members of the RBI. The group has hired Looney Ricks Kiss, an architectural and planning company, to evaluate the potential stadium sites. Timmons Group, a civil-engineering firm, is assisting Looney Ricks Kiss with the study.

RBI plans to present a proposed site and more details to city officials in about two weeks. Richmond's Economic Development Department is studying the feasibility of RBI's idea and plans to give a report to the council in the coming weeks.

"A downtown stadium would serve as an extraordinary . . . catalyst for the other major initiatives going on throughout the city and the region," City Manager Calvin D. Jamison said during an interview after the council meeting last night. "There appears to be a lot of momentum."

The Braves operate the stadium, but it is owned by the Richmond Metropolitan Authority for the city of Richmond and Chesterfield and Henrico counties. The Diamond, excluding the playing field, was built for $8 million in 1985.

Reached by phone at his home last night and told of the proposal, Braves General Manager Bruce Baldwin sounded enthusiastic about the idea of a new stadium next to the farmers' market.

"That's an area that is undergoing huge opportunities. Oh, wow. That would be intriguing," he said. "If it makes sense and it helps the city then, absolutely, we are all for it."

Asked about moving the stadium south of the James River to a site near the Manchester Bridge, Baldwin said: "That would have a spectacular view of the city, but I don't see that as a viable area."

He also called the area around Ethyl Corp. near the Canal Walk "intriguing."

City Councilman G. Manoli Loupassi said it would not be easy for RBI to carry off its $58 million plan.

Earlier this year, a private foundation convinced the council to increase Richmond's meals-tax rate by 1 percentage point to help pay for a downtown performing-arts center after having trouble raising funds for the $79.8 million project. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a souring economy and a state budget crisis had been rough on the fund-raisers.

"The hurdles are extremely high," said Loupassi, who serves on the RMA's Stadium Operating Committee. "Much will depend on where the Braves and the business community are on this long-term. Those two issues will affect how the surrounding localities, including Richmond, approach it."

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This is a very bad idea for Richmond, for many reasons.

We already have an adequate ballpark ("The Diamond") that is in an urban/industrial area maybe two miles west of downtown. It is a convenient area near the heart of the city, and access is no problem with two exits off I-95 close by. The Diamond seats over 12,000, and when it was built in 1985 it was considered a model for minor league ballparks. The planned renovations will improve an already good facility and bring it up to current standards. Oh, and there is an excellent view of the downtown skyline from the upper deck on the third baseline. ;)

The site in Shockoe Bottom is in the middle of Richmond's major entertainment and nightlife district, along the southeastern edge of downtown, near the James River. The Bottom is the oldest part of Richmond, it is very dense, and it is BOOMING right now. The old tobacco factories and warehouses are being converted into pricey loft apartments, and the bars, restaurants, and businesses are flourishing. Adding a stadium here would be a disaster. The streets are narrow and parking is tight. To build a stadium would most likely require closing some streets in the old grid :angry: and demolishing some buildings for more surface parking lots :angry::angry: . This is an area that is much better suited for more apartments, condos, entertainment, and retail.

Downtown stadiums can be good ideas for some places, but I can't think of a suitable site for one in downtown Richmond. I truly believe most folks in Richmond would rather see it stay in its current location on Boulevard.

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