- Scott Elmquist
- Removing The Diamond, along with other city and state facilities, would open up nearly 90 acres along North Boulevard for major retail shopping center.
The regional allure of North Boulevard will become a key selling point in the case for — and against — building a ballpark in Shockoe Bottom.
And political futures at City Hall likely will hinge on the outcome.
Retail developers long have eyed the area surrounding The Diamond for its proximity to interstates 64 and 95 and central location in the city. Relocating the stadium, along with the Department of Public Works operations and facilities depot and the Arthur Ashe Center, would open up 67 acres for development. An additional 20 acres can be added by moving the Sports Backers stadium and the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control distribution center, both behind The Diamond.
That's nearly 90 acres — more than enough for a retail shopping center that could generate considerable tax revenue for a city in dire need of retail. Almost universally, developers and real estate agents say the area would attract big-box retailers such as Target and Best Buy, or perhaps an upscale shopping center or outlet mall.
"If it was just raw land it would be a tremendous asset to the city from a retail perspective," Larry Agnew, a vice president at Divaris Real Estate who specializes in retail, told Style Weekly in April. "If planned properly, it would be a great centralized node for retail."
But its central location makes it equally attractive for a
ballpark. The vast majority of the region's baseball-loving fans hail from the suburbs. Last year more than 80 percent of the Richmond Flying Squirrels' fans came from Chesterfield, Henrico and Hanover counties. This, ultimately, is why the city originally scuttled earlier plans to relocate the ballpark to the Bottom.
So what works politically — support for keeping the ballpark on the Boulevard has always overwhelmed plans to move it — is what holds the area back economically.
Moving the ballpark "would free up the area where The Diamond is for a lot of economic development," concurs Tom Farrell, chairman and chief executive of Dominion Resources. But he adds the caveat: "I think getting a new ballpark is important for the region. I think a new Coliseum is more important."
Moving the ballpark also means the city's unlikely to get regional financial support. So the city will be stuck with a bigger chunk of the $50 million bill without contributions from Henrico and Chesterfield. And will that shortchange other projects?
It all may depend on the promise of the Boulevard.
"Candidly, if the decision comes from the community that we cannot afford baseball, then so be it," says David Hicks, senior adviser to Mayor Dwight Jones, and likely mayoral contender in 2016. "My commitment is to follow the facts and the numbers to wherever they lead."