Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones hasn’t formally released his plan to build a ballpark in Shockoe Bottom, but that isn’t stopping a long line of high-profile opponents from voicing their distaste for the idea.
One such group of heavy hitters announced today that it would hold a news conference in front of City Hall on Monday.
Among those speaking or presenting written statements are Christy S. Coleman, the president of the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar; Waite Rawls, the president and chief executive of the Museum of the Confederacy; Philip J. Schwarz, an emeritus professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University and a nationally recognized expert on the history of slavery in Virginia; Shawn O. Utsey, a VCU professor of psychology and former chairman of the African-American studies department; and Randall Robinson, a Richmond-native and best-selling author known for his anti-apartheid activism.
Other speakers include longtime opponent Ana Edwards, the chair of Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project of the Defenders of Freedom, Justice and Equality.
The group will present a statement opposing the stadium signed by 35 “Virginia university professors, holders of doctoral degrees, and museum officials,” who describe the Shockoe Bottom area as an “irreplaceable treasure.”
In their statement, the group outlines its objections:
In the decades leading up to the end of the Civil War, Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom was the site of the second largest slave-trading district in the United States. Tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people were bought and sold like chattel in this market area that extended west of what is today Interstate 95 and east to around 20th Street. The majority of African-Americans today could likely trace some ancestry to this small piece of land. It is totally inappropriate to build a commercial sports stadium on this sacred ground. Further, if properly promoted as a historic district, Shockoe Bottom could draw people from across the country and beyond, producing economic benefits to many more people than the small group of wealthy developers now behind the stadium proposal.
The Jones administration was widely expected to release its plan last month.
Though nothing has been made public, staff briefed City Council and members of the business and development community on the plan last month. Council members say they’ve been told they’ll be given two possible scenarios.
One calls for a stadium in Shockoe Bottom, which the administration has told council members will be financed entirely by revenues from a larger economic development deal on the Boulevard. That plan calls for the construction of a large, mixed-use center where The Diamond now is. The city owns nearly 70 acres of land on the Boulevard, and many people consider it prime for the kind of development that would draw residents and shoppers -- fattening city coffers.
The second plan calls for a new stadium on the Boulevard, which the administration says would end up costing taxpayers money. They were still trying to firm up numbers.
City Council members so far have withheld their support, saying they need more details about what the plan for the Boulevard would look like. Several have questioned whether it would be attractive enough to siphon off traffic -- and dollars -- that now zip past on the way to Short Pump, and whether it would be lucrative enough to pay for a stadium in Shockoe Bottom. Council members also have asked city staff to research how other cities with historical sites have parlayed them into tourist destinations.