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The Ballpark’s New Pitch

Mayor Jones says his focus is on job creation, not stadium relocation.

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Mayor Jones - SCOTT ELMQUIST

Mayor Dwight Jones says the “furor” over the future location of a new baseball stadium has been missing the larger point. A city in which one in four residents lives in poverty should ask itself one question, he says: Where does the best opportunity for economic development -- and therefore job creation -- lie?

The question of where the stadium should be built is secondary, he says.

“Everything we do should be seen through the lens of economic development,” Jones says in a wide-ranging conversation with Style Weekly on Monday, during which he answers a few questions about the stadium debate.

“So, it’s not really to me about a baseball stadium,” he says. “It’s about economic development. And it should be about economic development that possibly could include a baseball stadium. And so, if that it is one place or another, it’s fine.”

In and of itself, the mayor notes, a stadium doesn’t generate a “large amount of revenue.” (The Richmond Flying Squirrels will play about 70 home games next season.) And, the mayor adds, 33 percent of people who go to the stadium are city residents. So “at the end of the day,” he says, “the baseball stadium doesn’t really change or move the city of Richmond forward in terms of conquering some of our primary problems.”

The mayor remains tight-lipped about his administration’s economic development plans, which include the future home of the stadium, though it’s become clear that those plans hinge upon better use of the Boulevard as a gateway to the city.

The city owns several large parcels around The Diamond totaling about 45 acres. It has started laying the groundwork to acquire ownership of The Diamond from the Richmond Metropolitan Authority. That acquisition would give the city 60 acres with which to work. According to several City Council members, the brief of the project sketched out for them individually includes development of retail and housing on the Boulevard with the stadium’s location shifted slightly to allow the city to better assemble a contiguous chunk of land.

The alternative, as has been widely speculated and nearly as widely criticized, relocates the stadium to Shockoe Bottom. The potential site there likely would sit just east of Lumpkin’s Jail and the African burial ground, which lie in a small, tucked-away corner of the city distinguished largely by a giant parking lot and the looming freeway.

Realistically, the mayor says, there are only “a couple places” where the city could build a new stadium.

“We don’t have cow fields that we can just go out and spread out and [build] light retail and housing to attract tax dollars, but yet we are handling the lion’s share of poverty for the region,” he says. “We’re not trying to raise taxes, so in order for us to have a bright future, we have to expand our tax base. That’s got to be No. 1 and that’s the way we are going to deal with poverty.”

He says any discussion of the stadium “has to be in the context of broadening our tax base. It has to be in the context of creating jobs. It has to be in the context of continuing to trigger the renaissance that is going on in the city. It has to be in the context of using an opportunity like this to redevelop and re-craft an entire neighborhood, but not just talking about building a baseball stadium.”

While the two most-debated locations for a new stadium have been the Boulevard and Shockoe Bottom, city and business leaders have floated Manchester as option before. The mayor says it remains a possibility.

“Manchester is an option,” Jones says. “You know, I’m from the South Side, so I’m partial to the South Side. I would love to see great development in Manchester and that’s one of our opportunities, particularly with the Reynolds property and all the organic stuff that is happening over there on Hull Street with the artists, lofts and all that kind of stuff. … So that’s definitely something I see as possible.”

Besides, he says, “the best views of the city are from the South Side.”

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