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New Ballpark Plan May Surface Soon

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Is a new Shockoe Bottom ballpark plan in the works? Insiders say that an announcement is likely any day now extolling a stadium plan much revised from the one proffered last year by the Richmond Ballpark Initiative.

Ultimately, those who fought for the RBI design lacked enough support from Greater Richmond officials and citizens to get the project off the ground.

But climates change. Shockoe Bottom businesses were hurt by Tropical Storm Gaston, and Richmond gained a new City Council and strong mayor. Likewise, those pushing to bring baseball to the Bottom have changed. So the new plan could be more strategically poised and marketable.

Renderings for the new ballpark do not include the demolition of any historic sites, according to a number of sources who have seen the new proposal — and who asked to remain anonymous. That could be welcome news for preservationists, who opposed former plans. The proposal calls only for the Exxon station at 18th and Broad streets to be razed, along with some fencing, parking lots and rubble.

Initially, the controversial ballpark and its ancillary development had an estimated cost of $100 million. Now, with the new proposal, that figure is closer to $500 million. The reason: more investment and more projects. But at who's behest?

The proposed development would include a ballpark, a multiplex theater, a hotel and a mixed-use space for upscale condos and retailers. This time around it's not RBI but a new consortium of power brokers pushing the project — including the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce and the Richmond — Time-Warner/Atlanta — Braves.

The private development could be financed through what is called tax-increment financing, in which tax revenue brought in from the project above a preestablished base amount would pay off debt on the deal.

Second-District City Councilman William J. "Bill" Pantele says he's aware of the rumblings, even though Council has not seen the proposal. Pantele, who serves as chairman of Council's finance committee, says he'll have a slew of questions: What's the scale of development compared to what's around there? Could the project compromise the status or stature of nearby historic properties?

Pantele says he's "not yet made up his mind" on the Bottom ballpark.

The only private landowner needed to go forward with the plan is Loving's Produce. But Gary Loving says he hasn't seen any proposals. "Whenever news breaks I'd like to hear about it," he says.

John Woodward, economic development director for the city, deferred to Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder for comment. In an October press release, a then-campaigning Wilder objected to a Shockoe Bottom ballpark, saying it simply wasn't a priority. Sources tell Style that the mayor was invited along with key figures to a Feb. 4 briefing on the new proposal but declined to attend. Wilder could not be reached for comment by press time. — Brandon Walters

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