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Bottom Ballpark, Round Two?

"What we are trying to do is put everything together," Baldwin says, adding that there is no hard-and-fast deadline for deciding on the team's plans in the Bottom.

In the spring, the team signed a three-year extension to remain at The Diamond, the field of which was recently resurfaced, but vowed to continue exploring the possibility of a new, 7,500-seat stadium just north of the 17th Street Farmers' Market. The ballpark would be the anchor for a larger, $58 million retail and residential development.

The anticipated re-emergence of the Bottom ballpark isn't a surprise. Insiders say the Braves wanted to wait until after a mayor took office and changes at City Hall cooled before making another pitch.

The rumor mill got going again in mid-January, when preservationists got wind that Jack Berry, executive director of Richmond Renaissance, included the proposed ballpark in a presentation to a group of local architects. Those plans included some updated information, particularly concerning demolition of buildings. The original plan would require demolition of several buildings fronting the ballpark, along Franklin and 17th streets. But the Braves are trying to reduce the number of buildings that must be torn down in order to make the deal fly, Berry says.

"I know they are trying to address the demolition problem," he says.

Preservationists have been against the ballpark because they say it would destroy the historic fabric of the Bottom, the city's birthplace. The ballpark also would be built near the site of old Lumpkin's Jail, the notorious slave pen that stood at the center of Richmond's slave trade in the mid-1800s.

Many of the businesses in the Bottom, however, support the plan. And with many of them still recovering from the flood caused by Tropical Storm Gaston, some people think the plan may get a warmer reception.

For now, Baldwin is mum on specifics. He says the Braves are still trying to come up with a plan that is supported by the community and that makes financial sense for the local Braves' parent, major league baseball's Atlanta Braves. — Scott Bass

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