City Council: Lame ducks, Redskins, and Riverfronts

This may be a lame duck session, but the City has important business to attend to: the Redskins’ new practice facility and the riverfront plan.

Note: some quotes are partly, but closely paraphrased, usually for reasons of length and are faithful to the original content. Most are exactly what was spoken.

This may be a lame duck session, but the City has important business to attend to, and it can’t wait for the new Council to be sworn in. So here they are, the quick and the dead. Marty Jewell looking pensive and slightly stunned. Bruce Tyler looking like a man who hasn’t slept well, and the biggest loser last week, Doug Conner, is not here at all. There are several big papers tonight including a resolution endorsing the Redskins’ training camp and the final approval of the Riverfront Master Plan. City Council business starts with the Redskins.

Chief of Staff Suzette Denslow introduces the topic, singing its praises. The City is expecting the new facility to draw as many as 10,000 people a day–100,000 in total to Richmond coming from D.C., Hampton Roads, and throughout the Commonwealth. Visitors will spend anywhere from $50 to $250 a day while they are here accounting for than $6.4 million. The Redskins are will spend another $2.1 million on food, lodging, and other expenses for a total economic impact of $8.4 million annually. In addition, Bon Secours is investing in three medical facilities spanning from the West End to the East End.

Next up for the administration is Sister Anne Marie Mack of Bon Secours Health Systems. She makes four points.

  1. This fits in with their mission to provide health services to underserved East Enders.
  2. It creates good jobs in the health care industry.
  3. It fits into the East End Master Plan partly developed by Bon Secours.
  4. “It is a virtually guaranteed success.”

Now it’s the citizens chance to speak, again. This discussion has already taken up two hours during the informal session. Since none of this was broadcast, most will do an encore presentation for the Regular Session. There are plenty of supporters and opponents. Opponents’ comments fall into three main categories. Westhampton residents are concerned about the future of the currently vacant Westhampton School and the impact of the 65,000 square foot facility Bon Secours wants to build on their neighborhood. Many are concerned about the lack of transparency and public input. Others question whether this is a good deal for Richmond and whether the City should be subsidizing a wealthy sports team like the Washington Redskins.

  • Chris Dorsey is first in line to speak against. As a former Redskins season ticket holder, he is opposed to giving money to the two richest entities in the world: the Washington Redskins and the Catholic Church. He wants a refund.
  • Westhamptoners are here in force making their case to take the Westhampton School off the board until community members have a chance to give their input.
  • Historic Richmond wants to save the Westhampton School building.
  • Charles Evans Hughes wants the City to protect us from the child molester and criminals that play for the Redskins. President Graziano is smiling, trying not to laugh.
  • A Fan resident want to turn the Leigh Street property into a dog park.

Now the yeas have their chance.

  • Jack Berry touts the benefits of increased sports tourism. The highest 10 weekends of hotel occupancy in Richmond coincide with sporting events.
  • Several Westhamptoners speak in favor of the medical complex. One laments the lack of vision in this city that has allowed Charlotte, which has two major sports teams, to bypass Richmond as the premier city in the region.
  • The Sportsbackers’ rep also touts the value of sports tourism, citing the massively successful Monument 10K and the Richmond Triathalon.

Now Council gets its turn.

Bruce Tyler, sounding very tired, is opposed:

We’ve only held one public hearing. We’ve had years of hearings on Dove Court (Public Housing Project), but only one hearing on this. St Mary’s has let us down. The Sisters have betrayed us. This is going to impact the modest $200,000 homes in the neighborhood.

I see this as Bruce Tyler’s swan song. He wants to be a hero for his neighborhood, but he sounds discouraged. He doesn’t want to go down without a fight. Marty Jewell joins the fray. He and Tyler have been teammates against the Mayor for the last four years, and he want to support his buddy, but he too doesn’t show much spirit. After briefly speaking against it, he says he will vote in favor of the resolution.

It’s Charles Samuels turn:

Tonight is simply a “will of the Council” resolution, not a binding ordinance. City Council will hold public hearings on the deal when the Mayor brings it before them. The contract will not be signed until the Council and the public have had their input. Tonight we are being asked if we are in favor of this project and whether it is a good deal for Richmond, I think it is.

Chris Hilbert thinks the Richmond Public Schools are getting gypped. Much as he’d like to, he can’t support the resolution.

Robertson, a Jones ally, speaks in favor. She likes the expanded health care services to East End residents, so does Newbille.

President Graziano says Bon Secours has promised to spend $42 million and add $14 million in payroll. Count her in.

Tyler then makes a motion to split the Westhampton School from the rest of the project. After President Graziano explains the motion to Reva Trammell, Tyler’s measure loses 6-2. The resolution in favor passes by the same margin.

I’ve been keeping track and the word “Redskins” was mentioned 129 times tonight before I stopped counting. It’s almost nine and I’m going off the clock soon. The other big issue tonight, the Riverfront Master Plan, has been in the works for at least five years with scores of meetings, revisions, and votes. It’s already been before City Council at least once.

I don’t think there will be much discussion (I’m wrong). This is truly a done deal (it’s not). Some will oppose aspects of it, but Councilmembers will line up behind this, competing with one another to see who supports this the most (they don’t). At 10:10 PM Marty Jewell moves to reconsider the plan and send it back to committee. After four votes they do just that. Most likely you’ll see it again in prime time next session, but I won’t. I’ll be in Florida and one thing I won’t be doing is watching Richmond City Council. Somebody else will be doing that, and I’ll read about it when I get back.

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Paul Hammond

Paul has been writing about life and politics in Richmond for 11 years. You can often find him walking his dog up and down Franklin Street and yes, he does bite, the dog that is.

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