Council committee balks at baseball stadium referendum

Councilman Samuels wanted a referendum to encourage public debate and awareness about a new baseball stadium. With that referendum all but dead, he’s hoping the debate lives on.

Diamon exterior

Update #2 — July 2, 2013; 10:35 AM

City Council’s Organizational Development Committee voted 6-3 yesterday to recommend a proposed baseball stadium referendum (see below) not be included on the November ballot.

“It’s all but dead,” said Council President Charles Samuels (2nd District), sponsor of the proposed referendum, about its chances of getting a public vote. “It’s highly unlikely that I’m going to flip two votes to get it on the November ballot” when the full Council votes on the proposal next week.

Samuels said he was “disappointed” by the decision. “The referendum has gotten folks really excited and engaged” about discussing the future of Richmond baseball.

One of the opponents of the stadium referendum is Councilman Jon Baliles (2nd District). “I’m not a big fan of referendum government,” said Baliles in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “California is a prime example. It’s a basket case.”

Samuels agrees that constant referendums can erode the effectiveness of government, but he added “referendums are available in Virginia, and they have been used” before. Most recently in 2004, when Richmonders voted for a mayor-at-large system (City Council elected mayors until then). Samuels said that certain issues are so important that they’re worth “[taking] to the people” because “not actively seeking public input is an abdication of leadership.”

Prior to last night’s committee ruling, the City held its first public comment on the baseball stadium referendum. “The idea of a referendum excited people and got people thinking, not only about location, but how it should be paid for,” Samuels said. “All sorts of great questions popped up…”

He said most people who spoke supported the referendum. Most also supported building a new stadium on Boulevard and not in Shockoe, a location the Mayor seems to favor.

Samuels said that six council members support keeping a stadium on Boulevard. Additionally, Councilman Parker Agelasto (4th District) said that 85%-95% of constituents who contacted him supported both the referendum and a stadium on Boulevard, according to Samuels.  

But while a stadium referendum is all but dead, public discussion still lives. The final public comment period on the stadium will take place on Monday, July 8th inside Council Chambers at City Hall.

And while no final stadium plan exists, let alone a site or funding arrangement, Samuels still hopes Richmonders will let leaders know what the public prefers. “I think it’s important to remember that we still have an opportunity to continue a discussion and dialogue,” he said.

— ∮∮∮ —

Update #1 — July 1, 2013; 10:33 AM

The City of Richmond will host the first public comment regarding the construction of a new baseball stadium and a proposed stadium referendum (see below) tonight in the Council Chambers at City Hall beginning at 5:00 PM.

Additional public comment events are expected in the coming weeks.

City Hall is located at 900 E. Broad Street.

— ∮∮∮ —

Original — June 18, 2013

Last night City Council President Charles Samuels (2nd District) released draft legislation (PDF) that he hopes spurs debate on a new baseball stadium and leads to a citywide referendum this November on its location.

Samuels said the public has been largely absent from stadium debate. “This has been an issue that has been [talked] about since 2001,” Samuels said by phone. “But we’ve never really reached out to the public to ask: what do you want?” He believes the proposed referendum will get people talking.

The draft referendum reads:

That no City-owned or City-acquired real estate not located within the area of the city bounded by Interstate 64 / 95 to the north, Hermitage Road to the east, West Leigh Street to the south and North Boulevard to the west shall be used for a baseball stadium or facilities ancillary to a baseball stadium.

Boiled down, Samuels said the question amounts to: “should City property be used to build a stadium?” And while he cautioned that the precise wording of the proposed referendum may change in coming weeks, if it remains more-or-less the same, a YES vote by Richmonders would signal to officials and interested parties alike that the public wants a stadium to remain at the site of The Diamond. A NO vote would, in turn, indicate that the public is open to another location.

But the question posed by the draft referendum omits several secondary questions entangled in the ongoing baseball stadium debate: should The Diamond be replaced outright or merely refurbished? Where else could a stadium go? What amenities do the Flying Squirrels want in a new stadium? How will the stadium be funded?

Samuels intends for the referendum to further a public debate on those matters. “The referendum is a great catalyst for a serious conversation about the ballpark,” he said. “It opens up the conversation that, up until now, various people have discussed [i.e. City officials, Flying Squirrels ownership] but there hasn’t been that community involvement.”

The process of including the citywide referendum on the November ballot will begin Monday, June 24th when referendum legislation will be introduced to Council. It will then go to a Council committee for consideration and recommendation before going back to Council for a full vote. Assuming Council passes the initiative (the referendum dies if it doesn’t), the legislation heads to the Circuit Court who then instructs the Registrar to include the referendum on the November ballot.

And while public vote on any eventual referendum will serve only as an advisory and not binding role to City officials, it’s patron hopes public consideration of the referendum encourages broader, meaningful debate.

“I want to know what the people think more than telling people what I think,” Samuels said. “This is a great opportunity for people to use their voice, to use their vote, to let leaders know what they want.”

Samuels encourages members of the public to send him letters, emails, and faxes.

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photo by Eli Christman

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

20 comments on Council committee balks at baseball stadium referendum

  1. FANrocker on said:

    As described previously in other news comment threads, this is a blatant political move by Samuels. Where was the referendum on the Redskins training camp? Pure political opportunism.

  2. BOPST on said:

    Man, the people pushing this must stand to make A WHOLE LOT OF MONEY off of this considering the yearly frequency by which they keep bringing it up. My question is this: What happens to the Boulevard and the supporting businesses that have sprouted up all around the existing stadium? Seems to me that moving the stadium would leave A GIANT FINANCIAL HOLE in that emerging district (with easy highway access) solely to line the pockets of people who want to sell property in another part of the city. Am I wrong?

  3. We can fill that space!

  4. Richard on said:

    What existing businesses? You mean the bus station? The boarded-up Bills? The ABC distribution center? Yeah, they’d really hurt.

    I’m all for a move to a more historic part of town, especially when there is nothing there except parking lots right now. Get the infrastructure right, and it’ll be golden.

  5. schlep on said:

    What Bopst said. ^ Why won’t this go away? Because some developers (and the politicians that love them) want it to happen.

  6. Andrew R. on said:

    If the Developers and Leaders of this city are determined to “re-develop” the bottom, it seems to me that the better use of the area would be as the site for a new Colosseum. A multi use Entertainment Center would benefit greatly from access to the rail-station and could be used 365 days a year instead of only for the spring and summer. And maybe I am biased but I want to see VCU play a NCAA tournament game in Richmond and thats not going to happen at the current Colosseum or at a new AA baseball field.

  7. charles samuels sucks, this plan sucks in every form. boulevard would work except for the fact that the city deeply regrets allowing the RMA to own the diamond, because it requires them to treat the counties’ government as quasi-equals (nevermind that this is insane given that everything RMA owns is within city limits.) they want us to vote NO so that they can put it somewhere else and control the development process more fully, as well as to monopolize the potential income from the project… except hey, guys, sorry to break it to you but there’s no pot of gold here until the infrastructure is right. no matter where a new stadium goes it will absolutely buttfuck whatever neighborhood it gets dropped on in a development and traffic sense…i personally would rather they redevelop the diamond, use it as leverage to get the counties the fuck off of the advisory board for RMA and then force all of these canny MFs to finance our ailing school system for the next goddamn century.

  8. Tear down the existing structure and rebuild on that land. If not, it’s going to remain empty for as long as they have been talking about it. It’s an established spot, and there are businesses around it already. AND GOD NO!!!! NO WALMART ANYWHERE IN RICHMOND CITY. Thank you for your time ;-)

  9. TOT on said:

    1) They should put this on the ballot in November for citizens to vote on.

    2) Why are people so obsessed with baseball? Why do they feel that a stadium built anywhere is the ticket to the city’s revival? IMHO…if baseball were to go away, the city would be no better or worse off

    3) Who thinks Samuels reminds them of Cheese from Old School?

  10. Alyse on said:

    I am about as interested in Walmart & Applebees on the Boulevard as a toxic waste dump. No thanks Richmond, I am happy with the Diamond exactly where it is.

  11. Greg on said:

    Hey TOT, why do the Squirrels average 6,300 people a game?

  12. Mark on said:

    I am opposed to any plan to move the stadium to Shockoe Bottom. There are far too many reasons to oppose this move to list easily, but a quick review includes:

    –Shockoe Bottom is a flood zone. Why build a new, substantial public structure there?
    –Space: where will this stadium complex be located? Where will the stadium, parking, etc. fit in a congested space?

    –Infrastructure: even if there were space of some sort, how would the infrastructure accommodate it? What about traffic and access to highways?

    –Interest: will people who currently drive from the counties to watch games drive to Shockoe?

    –Historic importance: what historic sites will be damaged or covered up by the stadium site? Given the past controversy re: the African American burial grounds, how will the stadium impact the historic site and/or any plans to memorialize it?

    –Transportation: building a stadium in Shockoe Bottom would likely eliminate any chance we have of a true multi-modal transit hub. Other cities have effectively integrated various forms of public transit, and Richmond could do the same. Building a stadium would likely eliminate a strong potential site for this.

    –Financing: who is going to pay for a new stadium in Shockoe, and how much more expensive will that stadium be (for all the reasons noted above) than one at the site of the Diamond? How will this be paid for? If revenues don’t meet goals, how much will fall on the residents of the city?

    –Alternate locations: is this a Boulevard or Shockoe battle? Is there any other site that has been considered?

    –Economic development: with the housing going into Shockoe to accommodate students and staff from VCUHS/MCVH and other businesses, I don’t see as much of a need to use a major project like the ballpark to encourage development in Shockoe. As already seen along Broad St. near VCU, once an area develops a stable residential base, businesses often follow. If anything, enhancing the economic development along Broad St would be preferable…especially if there was any way to encourage economic development to benefit Northside.

    –False promises: from my understanding, there is no reliable or consistent evidence that building a publicly financed major league sports stadium actually benefits any city’s economy in the long run. I suspect there is even less evidence that a minor league park makes much of a difference–despite what backers of the stadium relocation might promise. So: why disrupt a major part of downtown for a project with uncertain financing and no clear evidence of long-term benefit?

    I like the Flying Squirrels, and I like going to the games. I can understand the appeal of a ballpark in downtown: seeing other cities’ parks located in the middle of town with a dramatic backdrop of the skyline is a great visual. However, I don’t think that is enough. There are too many unanswered questions about how the proposed Shockoe ballpark would be accomplished and, given the public funding needed, it is too much of a risk to pursue.

  13. Nearby Neighbor on said:

    The reasons why the Bottom is a superior site from a planning and development standpoint are legion and have even been acknowledged by so wise a personage as Paul Goldman. The sole X factor is the political will of The People. Samuel’s resolution is a transparent response to the Goldman statement on this issue – to try to rally public opinion against the Bottom. It will be interesting to watch if whatever developers lurking in the shadows can get a solid proposal together in time.

  14. Ridiculous on said:

    Can we vote baseball out of the city entirely? Or at least vote that no taxpayer funds go the development or maintenance of anything baseball-related? Some of us just don’t like baseball, and think that a city in financial difficulty should focus on needs and not toys. Richmond is just not a sports town. I like Samuels’s idea because at least gives us a choices.

  15. Ben on said:

    Oh well if Paul Goldman says so…

  16. joe on said:

    Shockoe bottom is not a flood zone. Has no one seen that 30 foot concrete wall that has been down there for 25 years. The boulevard is good for the suburbanites who are too selfish to help pay for it and the bottom is good for the city. That ugly expanse of vacant land is a scare on the city. Beautiful brick buildings were torn down so suburbanites could park. Something needs to be built there. If its not a ball park it needs to be about 2000 apartments and mixed use. I think some of you people love all that ugly asphalt.

  17. FANrocker on said:

    Can somebody tell me why Samuels wanted us to vote on this issue, and none other? I sure would have voted against the Redskins subsidy, maybe we should vote on school district changes- what about a new jail? Yes or No . . .

  18. Sean on said:

    I love how those in support of the stadium completely ignore the actual issue at hand, tax dollar allocation. The meat of this issue isn’t about the location of the stadium, but the money to build it. If a private developer wanted to purchase land to build a brand new stadium, go for it. That’s their right. But if the project is in anyway subsidized using tax dollars, that’s where i draw the line. Our schools and roads are in questionable condition, our property taxes and utility fees are too high, and the last thing a city tax payer wants to hear is that a stupid stadium will be built. That’s really the simplest way of putting it. If you can prove to me that this stadium is more important than the issues listed above, i’ll support the stadium, but you can’t prove it because it isn’t more important.

  19. Sue Who on said:

    As I mentioned in a CHPN commentary, the Boulevard needs to be marketed as a Sports District. The stadium idea might have worked 30-40 years ago, but the present residential growth has created more vehicular traffic and a stadium would only increase congestion. The Bottom needs more parking decks to accommodate both residents and visitors/patrons to the Slip and the Bottom, and a more sustainable type of development to satisfy both the residents and businesses.

  20. Julie Blansett on said:

    so far I haven’t thrown in my 2 cents, mainly because a copper penny is only worth about a tenth of a cent, and it costs well over 2 cents just to make one of them now. it’s really just not worth it, nobody really cares what I think anyway. do whatever you want, Richmond. this is just another little distraction for those who have plenty of free time to argue about such things. my concerns are much more pedestrian, and personal. like rampant crime in my Monroe Ward neighborhood, for instance. education for the kids who must attend public school here, yada yada yada. this is silliness, and I don’t see any end in sight. thanks for the rant time. off my soapbox now.

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