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Playing Ball

"The dramatic savings from phasing out most of the city’s public-education responsibilities could be poured directly into Shockoe Bottom revitalization."



At last, spring has sprung! On Thursday a new season will begin for Richmond's beloved baseball club, the Flying Squirrels. Can't you already hear the music swelling in the distance?

It's a jazzy, a cappella version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." The mellifluous Mayor Dwight Jones is singing lead, with the dulcet harmony of the Councilmanic Nine backing him up.

With the much-welcomed changing of seasons, in every neighborhood the warmth of City Hall's ubiquitous LovingRVA campaign is sweeping Richmonders off their feet. So much so that my inclination to want to save Shockoe Bottom from what I once saw as a wrongheaded development has melted away.

Like Jones, I used to be against baseball in the Bottom. But the same persistence of visionary developers that won Hizzoner over also has now persuaded me. With my wintry discontent gone, the notion of a residents' referendum on the stadium issue is getting smaller in my rearview mirror. Now it's time to play ball!
That means I've hopped on the mayor's bandwagon bound for the lofty goal of being widely known as a tier-one city.

Developments producing new streams of tax revenue for a landlocked city are essential for growth. Since joining the mayor's revitalization team, I've been inspired to dream big. Plans to create new jobs are needed. More outside-the-box thinking to attract tourist dollars is needed. Beyond that, if City Hall can find bold new ways to cut spending, then paying for a snazzy new baseball stadium could get easier. 

Big Idea No. 1 has me envisioning a tourist attraction fashioned after a Hollywood celebrity house tour. Picture a monorail running from Tredegar Iron Works across Belvidere to the hallowed grounds of Hollywood Cemetery. While the tourists aboard the elevated train look down over the gravestones and monuments, a tour guide will point out where the various luminaries are buried and tell colorful anecdotes.

Selling off publicly owned properties that aren't producing any tax revenue could help with paying for a new baseball stadium, too. Which leads to my second revitalization suggestion for the mayor:

Grassy public parks the likes of Libby Hill Park are so 20th-century, maybe even 19th. Why not sell off or lease some of the publicly-owned spaces that are just magnets for idle people with no desire to help the recovering economy? Think of how much Bryan Park's land might be worth to the right developer. 

So Richmond shouldn't only privatize Monroe Park and encourage retailers to move in. After marveling at the high-rise makeover that's underway on the 800 and 900 blocks of West Grace Street, shouldn't we think seriously about building vertically elsewhere in the Fan District?

I can imagine a nine-story Target Townhouse Tower replacing the playground park on Lombardy, between Park and Hanover avenues. I envision the triangular, 18-story art deco style Wal-Mart Place rising in what is now a rarely used little park on Meadow, between Park and Stuart avenues. With parking decks on a couple of levels, couldn't a department store behemoth's building go upward, instead of sideways?

Naturally, the usual activists — who routinely naysay any proposal made in the pursuit of prosperity — will carp about traffic, parking and even inappropriate architecture. Nonetheless, hugely successful retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart know how please their customers, who surely will include plenty of Fan residents now driving out to the suburbs to shop.

A forward-thinking City Hall also should own up to its limitations. Like it or not, that means Richmond should methodically scale down its wasted spending on public education. After all, most responsible city-dwelling parents who want their children to get quality educations already send them to private schools. 

City Hall could offer vouchers to parents who take their children out of the city's crumbling public school system. For each student withdrawn the parents could be awarded half of what it costs the city to educate one pupil. While saving money for Richmond, such a sensible policy would strengthen the area's private schools. One by one, the city could then sell most of its school buildings. What was done with Westhampton Middle School in the Bon Secours-Redskins deal should be just the start.  

The dramatic savings from phasing out most of the city's public-education responsibilities could be poured directly into the fund to revitalize Shockoe Bottom with the stadium as the centerpiece. Maybe then we could even afford to fix some potholes in the streets, too. 

Which leads to a nifty way of helping the GRTC Transit System. A tier-one city needs good mass transit — and it's no secret ours needs help. If, after the UCI bicycle race in 2015, Richmond outlawed riding bicycles in the city, lots of drivers who pay taxes to own and operate motor vehicles would smile and say, "Thanks."

LovingRVA means supporting progress. By using buses to get around town, the cyclists who've been selfishly riding on the streets free would become better residents by supporting mass transit.  

To close, dear reader, if you've been inspired to put on your thinking cap, my aim was true. Hopefully, you've enjoyed your April Fool's Day as much as I have. S


F.T. Rea is a freelance artist and writer based in the Fan District.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.


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