Two key swing votes on City Council have said they'll oppose Mayor Dwight Jones's proposal to build a ballpark in Shockoe Bottom.
Council President Charles Samuels and Councilman Jon Baliles released a statement late Friday announcing their intentions, effectively killing Jones' controversial development plan.
"If the Administration wants to revisit this issue in the fall when they may have a complete plan, we would be happy to consider it along with other potential proposals," Samuels said. "But at this time, there is a growing consensus that this slow drip approach of information is not helpful to the City of Richmond. Instead, it is increasingly interfering with more urgent matters that Richmond City Council needs to resolve."
Three council members, Chris Hilbert, Reva Trammell and Parker Agelasto, already said they would vote against the plan, leaving Jones two council members short of the six-vote threshold he needed to make the deal a reality.
Samuels voted against moving forward with the plan when it first came before council in February. Baliles supported moving forward, but introduced a budget amendment last month stripping funding for the plan. Until Friday, both had stopped short of saying they wouldn't support the proposal.
"This proposal is still, after seven months, fundamentally incomplete and continues to unravel with almost every presentation," Baliles said. "We have kept open minds on this plan since before Thanksgiving, but the time has come for us to move on to more pressing matters. We can always revisit this or any other plan at a later date.”
In a March cover story, Style asked Jones' staff and the Richmond Flying Squirrels what would happen if council didn't approve the plan:
David Hicks, the mayor's chief policy adviser, says the administration hasn't discussed it. But he also suggests it's unlikely that the mayor would be able to scrape together an alternative plan before his term ends in 2016 if the plan is voted down. Hicks says that's especially true given the level of resources and planning dedicated to preparing for 2015 UCI Road World Championship bike race next year.
"'We don't know' doesn't mean we're going to take the ball and go home," Hicks says. "But it really just becomes a matter of the calendar."
From the Richmond Flying Squirrels' perspective, location is less important than having a new stadium. "We're open," says Lou DiBella, the team's president and managing partner. "We didn't make the selection of the Bottom — the city did. If something changed, so long as we were adequately taken care of and the Squirrels were given a nest, so to speak, that would be OK. But I want to emphasize that the plans for development in the Bottom look exciting."
Timing also is important to the Squirrels. They'd like to have a new stadium by 2016. "If something doesn't happen then — it's been way too long and it's exceeded the length of time with respect to the promises that were made when we moved to Richmond," DiBella says. "Certainly at that point, we'd have a hard talk."
So if the city wants to keep the Squirrels, someone will have to scramble to figure out an alternative, and the mayor isn't making any promises that it'll be him.