Desolate. Dark. Vacant.
City officials, developers and assorted ballpark boosters have been painting a gloomy picture of Shockoe Bottom’s future should the mayor’s stadium proposal fail.
“If there’s no baseball stadium, there will be no other development,” the city’s chief administrative officer, Byron Marshall, told City Council’s Finance Committee last week. “There won’t be apartments. There won’t be a grocery store. There won’t be a hotel.”
But is it true?
A key developer acknowledged Friday that it plans to build on land it owns in the proposed stadium’s footprint if the ballpark’s deal goes south.
“There’s no way in the world we’re going to sit there with a vacant piece of land for the rest of our lives with our finger in our ear,” H. Louis Salomonsky says.
He and David S. White co-own Historic Housing, a development company that owns properties in the Bottom with an assessed value totaling $83 million. Those properties include the old Weiman’s Bakery, which the company purchased in April 2013 and which is located at home plate of the proposed stadium.
The company would consider building an extended-stay hotel on the property, Salomonsky says, which could be eligible for historic tax credits and the city’s tax abatement program.
In addition, the city’s financial analysis of Richmond’s ballpark options suggests that if the stadium stays on the Boulevard, a Shockoe redevelopment still would contain apartments, a grocery store and a parking deck, although there would be 672 fewer living units and far less parking.
The lower numbers are related to uncertainty about what would happen to the two blocks between 17th Street and the CSX railroad tracks. The majority of that land is owned by the Loving family and lies in a flood plain that for years has been a barrier to development.
At the city Finance Committee meeting Thursday, 5th District Councilman Parker Agelasto pressed officials and White on the issue: What if the city simply committed to mitigating the flood plain and allowed development to continue naturally?
After all, Agelasto said, under the current deal the city is committing $23.4 million to infrastructure upgrades. The expense is necessary for construction of the ball field, and isn’t figured into the city’s financial analysis that says baseball will pay for itself.
Marshall stressed that the cost of mitigating the flood plain depended on what development was planned. Work would need to be tied to specific construction scenarios, he said.
On the development end, White said unequivocally that he wouldn’t build apartments in the flood zone without a stadium, citing high construction costs even with planned flood mitigation.
With a stadium, White said, he can afford the more expensive building techniques necessary in the area, because apartments next to a ballpark would fetch a higher rent.
Is a stadium the only anchor that would draw tenants to higher-priced units? “Yeah, we could wonder,” White says in an interview the next day with Style Weekly. “But there comes a time when you just have to grab the opportunity.”