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Regional Ballpark Talks Splinter; But Who’s to Blame?



Because Henrico and Chesterfield counties can't afford to share in the costs, it makes sense to build a baseball stadium downtown, where it can jump-start or anchor new development.

That's the rationale behind the renewed push to put a ballpark in Shockoe Bottom: If the city's left holding the bag financially, why not build anew someplace besides on the Boulevard?

But the recent breakdown in regional talks regarding the ballpark has more to do with the city's recent renegade tendencies, sources tell Style Weekly — and an increasing unwillingness to communicate with its county partners.

"That lack of ability to communicate is fundamental and extremely damaging," says a local political consultant who talks regularly with officials in all three jurisdictions. "If you can't communicate, how are you ever going to get anything done?"

A series of recent events have had something of a domino effect. It started after the Richmond Metropolitan Authority negotiated a deal late last year to pay back the city $62 million in old loans relating to the construction of the Downtown Expressway. That led to a renewed effort in the General Assembly to give the counties equal say on the authority's board. The city appoints six of the 11 seats; Henrico and Chesterfield appoint two apiece.

Delegate Manoli Loupassi, R-Richmond, tabled the legislation to give regional leaders a chance to work out some priorities. Then earlier this year, six Richmond members of the RMA board booted longtime chairman Jim Jenkins, from Henrico, appointing one of their own, Carlos Brown, as chairman. The move outraged Loupassi.

It didn't stop there. At a mid-July meeting of regional leaders, including Henrico Board of Supervisors Chairman Richard Glover and Mayor Dwight Jones, the city informally requested financial help staging the 2015 UCI Road World Championships. The international bike race is expected to cost $21 million. The talks went nowhere.

Then came the ballpark. Expected to cost upward of $50 million, Henrico and Chesterfield had quietly agreed to help participate in financing a new stadium on the Boulevard, each paying a quarter of the costs. Without warning, City Hall announces that it's exploring alternate sites, mainly in Shockoe Bottom.

The point: The city simply can't make a unilateral decision on a regional project and show up after the fact with its hand out. Chesterfield Board of Supervisors Chairman Daniel Gecker, for example, has been meeting regularly with the mayor, and has advocated for formal talks to begin setting regional priorities. But sources say he found out about the new ballpark push in the Bottom like everyone else — in the daily newspaper.

"On the one hand the mayor always talks about regional cooperation," City Councilman Bruce Tyler says, "but on the other hand he doesn't demonstrate it." For the region to move forward, he says, the mayor must begin practicing what he preaches.