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Punch Drunk

Jack's Take on the Ballpark Debate

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Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones announced last week that baseball and the Richmond Flying Squirrels are going downtown. The years-long, polemic issue about whether to keep our minor-league team on the Boulevard or move it seemingly has come to an end. We're building a stadium, retail, a hotel, you name it — right in the heart of the city. It's happening.

I think it's fantastic. I love it. Any effort to make Richmond bigger and better is an effort worth undertaking. Now, like with any venture of this magnitude, some people are concerned, as well they should be. Things are going to change, which is scary. Who coined the expression, you have to crack a few eggs and disturb the nation's largest antebellum slave-trade site and burial ground if you want to make an omelet? I believe it was Vladimir Lenin.

We know downtown Richmond will be a construction-debris-ridden, street-detour-mazed, potholed, twisted metal and steel hellhole until about 2016 or whenever this immense project wraps. How do we know? Because downtown Richmond already is a construction-debris-ridden, street-detour-mazed, potholed, twisted metal and steel hellhole. So it's safe to assume a $200 million project will only add to the mess.

We can probably also expect the next biblical flood that hits to swamp the Shockoe Valley flood plain and destroy our new stadium at some point. That isn't news. We'll just build stronger walls and blindly hope for the best. Oh, and God hates a coward.

But what about the outliers? The not-so-obvious affected parties? The butterfly effect that will come with a change in the status quo — or, in this case, a monster, landscape-altering, moon-shot of change?

What about the Boulevard north of Broad — a street and neighborhood that slowly was edging toward respectability with its influx of homegrown, independently owned restaurants and businesses? This area may have a difficult time surviving the loss of minor-league baseball. The fear being that a Detroit-like urban decay would set in while the strip clubs tucked away in Scott's Addition begin to slowly encroach upon the main thoroughfare. This would lead to transients from the Greyhound bus station multiplying. Taco shops would revert back to smut-peddling stores. The white flight of fancy barbecue joints like Buz and Ned's Real Barbecue would encourage the return of beloved, yet sort-of-gross joints — like Bill's. The Diamond might become a husk of its former self. A giant, worn-out shooting gallery for Virginia Commonwealth University kids to paint murals all over. The new Richmond "it spot" to score drugs.

Actually, that all sounds sort of awesome.

And what of Shockoe Bottom as we know it now? Will the area lose its authentic gritty street feel to a wave of chain restaurants and shiny new, soulless, faux-gastropub-taproom monstrosities and big-box retailers? A Willow Lawn East, if you will?

Will little, yet integral things such as my beloved 25-cent taco and 50-cent light beer Tuesday nights at Tiki Bob's Cantina be forced to shutter? We need to consider these things, because getting drunk and fed on the cheap while surrounded by scantily clad, loose-moraled girls from Mechanicville in a faux Polynesian atmosphere is something that I as a Richmonder am damn well entitled to. It's something I've come to expect.

And what about the fate of the Exxon at 17th and Broad streets, aka "that creepy gas station where it feels like you're going to get stabbed at any second"? As money comes in and gentrification takes its inevitable course, you'd hope that we could at least replace it with a Wawa or maybe one of those fancy Uppy's. I beg of you, is upscale gourmet food and coffee in a gas station setting too much to ask?

And the 17th Street Farmers' Market? You know that place with the green roofs in front of Havana '59? You know, where they usually have one or two gypsy vendors selling hand-woven scarves and produce? Does the Bacon Festival ring a bell? No? Anyways, what becomes of the Farmers' Market? Will somebody please think of the children!

This stadium and all that comes with it will be a much-needed shot of life for the 18th Street corridor. I think we can also agree that The Diamond is decrepit and something needed to give. The Giants' Double-A affiliate and our minor-league team, the Flying Squirrels, have brought back pride and joy to Richmond summers. Whether or not you agree with the move to downtown, keeping them around, fat and jolly, should be an absolute priority. And no, "fat and jolly" isn't a cheap shot at the Squirrels' vice president, Todd "Parney" Parnell.

I commend the mayor and his team for taking action and I look forward to all the speed bumps and petty fights and construction halts and money issues and tax hikes and unseen catastrophic dilemmas and City Council obstructionist muscle-flexing that will come along with it. This is a move that will indefinitely redefine our great little city, and I can be the biggest, sarcastic, cynical asshole, but I'm dead serious when I say that it really is an exciting time to be a Richmonder.

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