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Out of the Dungeon: Who Pays for a New Coliseum?



Got an extra $150 million? While the discussion about the Richmond Coliseum's future kicks into full gear, the question is the movable object: a giant, brown, mushroomlike concrete structure on Leigh Street.

Step on it and it implodes, raising a plume of brown soot.

The Coliseum suddenly became a corporate priority last week, with Dominion Resources, Altria Group, MeadWestvaco and Genworth Financial ponying up $150,000 to figure out what to do with the 39-year-old arena.

Its future has a history. The push for the market study, sources say, which is being conducted by Los Angeles-based Barrett Sports Group LLC, is led by Dominion chief Tom Farrell, who has supported building a new arena on the Boulevard, next to The Diamond.

Three years ago, erstwhile power broker Eugene Trani, then president of Virginia Commonwealth University, publicly floated the idea of building anew. Former Mayor Doug Wilder had met with former Gov. Tim Kaine to discuss a potential land swap that would allow the city to acquire state property along Hermitage Road, the Virginia ABC warehouse and distribution center. The site has 19 acres compared with the 7-acre Leigh Street site, with better interstate access with plenty of room for a larger arena to hold bigger events and concerts.

The only problem is money. Building a new arena to accommodate 15,000 to 18,000 seats — the Coliseum has 12,000 — likely would cost $150 million to $170 million, says former City Councilman Bill Pantele, who has studied the idea. It would require regional cooperation, financial help from Chesterfield, Henrico and Hanover counties — a precarious concept considering the region was still in an uproar over where to build a new baseball stadium back in 2007.

But while Wilder wasn't averse to moving the facility — tearing down the Coliseum would free up valuable downtown real estate, which could generate upward of $8 million a year in real estate taxes, Pantele says — the current city administration may be. Mayor Dwight Jones' team wants the Coliseum to remain downtown, sources tell Style Weekly.

As for who would pay for the facility, that's even tougher. Henrico County Manager Virgil Hazelett has publicly stated the county can't help, for example. But there is one option unmentioned, at least publicly: When the city and surrounding counties ushered through lodging tax increases years ago to pay for the Greater Richmond Convention Center, the agreement hinged on returning any excess tax money to the localities. Since there are more hotels in the counties, the kickback is considerable.

In fiscal 2009, the convention center authority returned a total of $3.5 million to Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover counties. While it's not enough to cover debt service on a new arena — the convention center cost $170 million, with an $11 million yearly mortgage — it's a start.

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