After more than a month of stagnation, a flurry of developments surrounding Mayor Dwight Jones' Shockoe Bottom ballpark proposal are leading into City Council's final meeting of the summer tonight.
1. Boulevard is back. An alternative plan that first appeared and disappeared in early May came back in a big way last week. Midlothian developer Rebkee Co. re-emerged to say it can build a privately financed ballpark on the Boulevard. Company officials met with at least three City Council members last week. They subsequently released details, including project renderings, in The Richmond Times-Dispatch. The plan calls for the development of the city's property on the Boulevard in phases and the company says it has secured financing for the project.
2. Mayor doubles down. Jones remains unimpressed by the alternative proposal. In a statement, he called it a "bad idea," because a baseball stadium development on the Boulevard won't generate the kind of tax revenue that his mixed-use shopping development proposal for the Boulevard will. And his ally, Jack Berry, executive director of Venture Richmond, questioned Rebkee's financing plan: "Their definition of 'privately financed' is getting a bank loan, then paying it back with taxpayer funds that could have gone to schools."
3. Council weighs in: City Councilwoman Reva Trammell is bringing back calls for an advisory referendum on the issue. She wants to ask voters whether The Diamond should be renovated or a new stadium should be built. Councilman Parker Agelasto renewed calls for the entire process to be put out for public bidding, a suggestion that Rebkee's principals have said they don't oppose. In another development, Councilman Jon Baliles planned to introduce legislation that would direct the city to purchase key parcels in Shockoe Bottom with the goal of ensuring development in that area with or without a stadium.
4. Activists reappear: A coalition of activists opposed to Mayor Jones' Shockoe Bottom proposal purchased another round of billboards along interstates in and around the city. One thanks the five council members who said they oppose the Shockoe Bottom plan. At a news conference Monday, activists questioned pro-stadium fliers that they said supporters have used to target the black community. The flier makes scant mention of the stadium, focusing instead on the proposed slavery-heritage site. Activists said the fliers, placed on cars around at least one black church, are deliberately misleading. It's "as if they think we're stupid," former City Councilman Marty Jewell said. The marketing agency responsible for the pro-stadium LovingRVA campaign said it didn't know who made the fliers.