Mayor Dwight Jones urged hundreds of business and civic leaders Wednesday night to lobby city council members to support his administration’s proposal to build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom.
“We have a tough fight ahead,” the mayor said in a surprise appearance at the Greater Richmond Chamber Impact business awards dinner. The Chamber on Tuesday voted to support the plan.
“We all know what we are up against,” Jones said in brief remarks at the beginning of the program. “We’re up against old ways of thinking. We’re up against people who want to talk about the 6th Street Marketplace or Piedmont Airlines.
“ . . . I come tonight to ask you to help me. I want you to be engaged. I need you to call City Council members and ask them to vote for this plan. I need you to tell them to vote for new money for schools, to honor our past and build our future, to permanently transform this city. Vote for the future and not for the past.”
It’s still uncertain whether Jones has the support he needs from City Council to win approval for his ballpark proposal. And his plan faces vocal opposition from a legion of residents, activists and historians, who question nearly every element of the plan.
The mayor reiterated his administration’s position that Shockoe plan he laid out last week and which council committees are beginning to discuss this week is an all-or-nothing proposition. He also made it plain that the ballpark, no economic cash cow, is nevertheless key to construction of the infrastructure needed to build out the flood plain and spur development -- including a slave heritage and freedom site -- in the lowest parts of the neighborhood.
“Fix the flood plain in Shockoe. A new ballpark makes this financially possible,” he said. “Build new apartments, a hotel and Shockoe’s first grocery store. These things will create jobs. They will eliminate a food desert in the East End, and they will generate the revenue necessary for infrastructure. And when we do these things, it’s suddenly possible to commemorate Richmond’s heritage of slavery and freedom.
“But if we leave them aside, we’ll be stuck with the crumbling parking lots that we have now. That’s no way to honor our history and it’s no way for us to teach people about how we care about what has happened in our past. And when we do all of this, we can unlock the potential of the Boulevard.”
He went on to say the Shockoe Bottom plan is “the only plan that fixes the flood plain," frees two sites for development and generates nearly $200 million in revenue "for schools, neighborhood amenities like new sidewalks and street lights. … And because of the flood plain, because of the financing, we have to do them all together. People want to cherry-pick this apart and the whole project falls apart and people will have to explain why they left $200 million in revenue on the table.”
Richmond, Jones said at the beginning of his remarks, is on the rebound and, “is cool once again.” But, he added, with a 26 poverty rate, “we still have a long way to go.”
After the mayor finished speaking, Kim Scheeler, president and CEO of the Greater Richmond Chamber, urged the audience to get involved. Information placards emblazoned with “LovingRVA Starts Downtown,” were distributed at every table in the downtown Marriott Hotel ballroom.