While plans for a new stadium remain on ice, the Richmond Flying Squirrels went looking for a little love. Instead they got a big lump of coal.
The club’s president and managing owner, Lou DiBella, feels more than a bit slighted after requesting in August that the Richmond Metropolitan Authority, which owns The Diamond, cut the team a break on rent. The authority said no.
“The lease stinks. The facility stinks. Considering I spent $2.5 million on a stadium I don’t own, I shouldn’t be paying that kind of rent,” DiBella says, still fuming about the authority’s rejection letter, which he received Dec. 9.
“The new ballpark is nowhere,” he says. “There’s noting being planned. We basically said, ‘Give us an opportunity to have a favored status if we are stuck into this old ballpark.’”
Signed in October 2009, the Squirrels’ three-year lease includes three one-year options for renewal, beginning next spring. The team was paying $142,500 a year to use the stadium, but the rent goes up to $147,500 in the 2012 season. The team agreed to its first one-year extension in March.
Linda McElroy, public relations manager for the authority, says reducing the rent would have required going back to the participating jurisdictions — Richmond and Chesterfield and Henrico counties — for financial support. The authority is a political subdivision of the state. “We wanted to limit our going to [the] jurisdictions for additional funding,” she says.
DiBella won’t say how much of a break he wanted; and the authority declines to offer specifics.
Considering how much the Squirrels have done for The Diamond, DiBella says, the authority isn’t acting in good faith. The club went beyond the lease agreement, spending $2.5 million to spruce up the park, even though the authority expected only $1.5 million in improvements. But the investment came after promises were made in 2009 to build a new stadium, DiBella says. There’s no specific plan to do so.
DiBella reiterates that the team isn’t going anywhere, at least for another two years. And McElroy says the authority continues to have “ongoing discussions” with the participating jurisdictions about the lease agreement.
“I think the Richmond community has grown to truly embrace the Flying Squirrels and we certainly don’t want to see them leave,” McElroy says.
But that’s of little solace to DiBella, who sent letters to Chesterfield County Administrator Jay Stegmaier, Henrico County Manager Virgil Hazelett and Mayor Dwight Jones on Dec. 14 expressing his frustration with the team’s lease.
After more than a week, DiBella still hasn’t gotten responses from anyone. “I’ve heard nothing, which is also troubling, which says something unto itself,” he says. “I was expecting more love and it didn’t come.”