Approximately 200 area residents turned out for the first of six preliminary meetings to solicit public opinions to decide the fate of 60 acres surrounding the Diamond.
Update #1 — January 25, 2016; 5:33 PM
Both January 26th meetings will be rescheduled due to the snowstorm. The next regularly scheduled meetings are for the following dates and times:
- February 4th, 9:00 AM – Downtown Library, 101 E. Franklin Street
- February 4th, 6:00 PM – Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School, 1000 Mosby Street
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Original — January 20, 2016
Emotions ran high Tuesday evening as the concerned citizens in attendance spoke out at the first of a series of public meetings regarding the redevelopment of the land surrounding the Diamond on N. Boulevard. Approximately 200 area residents turned out at the meeting at the Department of Motor Vehicles headquarters on W. Broad Street.
Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones was in attendance along with staff members of the city’s Economic and Community Development Department and Richmond City Councilmen Charles Samuels and Jon Baliles.
Mayor Jones opened the meeting, noting the work the city had already done to prepare the 60-acre site for redevelopment, which included demolishing city-owned buildings no longer in use and hiring consultants to put together preliminary findings on the site’s potential. He led a tour Tuesday afternoon to show progress.
“If you look at the convergence of the highways, you’ll see that this is a unique opportunity for our city,” Jones said. “We want this project to be open, inclusive, and transparent-we’re looking forward to what you have to say. Your public input will be looked at very closely.”
Shortly after representatives from Pittsburgh-based consulting firm Tripp Umbach took to the podium, however, it was apparent that those in attendance didn’t agree with the company’s findings.
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The “Highest And Best Use”
Tyler Verin with the firm outlined what he and his team found to be the highest and best use of the land, stating they were hired to study “the highest economic and social potential of site,” the largest single tract of City-owned land available for large-scale redevelopment. Verin said the site is currently churning out $14.4 million in annual economic activity as it stands now, largely from Richmond Flying Squirrels games and related activities. If developed to its full potential as recommended by the company, the site could produce upwards of $339 million for the City in 20 years’ time, he said.
Verin began to lose the crowd after describing the best-use scenario for the site, which largely excluded baseball. He said a freestanding children’s hospital on the Boulevard-a vision that lost steam after backers of the project abandoned their plans-would have generated the most economic activity and produced the most jobs.
With prospects of that project off the table, Tripp Umbach found that an urban mixed-use scenario, built in phases over the next two decades, is the site’s next best use. The dense urban redevelopment would include a mix of housing, retail, urban flex space (a hybrid of coworking and open office space), and lodging.
The project as the firm envisions it would be centered around connectivity to the neighboring Northside and Scott’s Addition communities and include a mix of housing across the income spectrum. As the site stands now, around $240,000 in economic activity is produced per acre; Tripp Umbach projects the development as they envision it has the potential of $5.5 million per acre.
“Baseball,” he said in conclusion to an increasingly unsettled crowd, “is not the highest and best use for the site.”
Tripp Umbach’s key findings can be seen below; check out the full presentation here (PDF).
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Attending Public Pleads with City To INCLUDE Baseball
As Verin wrapped up his presentation, he directed attendees to gather into groups at their respective tables for breakout sessions, which would be facilitated by representatives of the consultancy. At that point, the crowd erupted in protest.
“This is a joke,” shouted Ann Marks as she stood up in the crowd. “We’re not taking the bike path! Not on this one, brother! We’ve listened to your plan, and now it’s time you listen to us,” she continued to cheers and applause.
After a series of other attendees made their displeasure with the meeting format known, the breakout sessions were scrapped and members of the public were given three minutes each to say their piece at the microphone.
Ten city residents spoke out, each one in favor of keeping baseball on the Boulevard.
One city resident said it would be “a break with tradition and an American pastime” to leave a stadium out of the site plans, noting that a team has played at the site since 1954.
Boulevard resident Jessie Jordan agreed. “We lost the Braves because of this. Don’t be a bad dog and chase the Squirrels out too,” she said, accompanied by cheers. Several residents also argued that the Richmond Flying Squirrels have said the team would require only seven acres for a new stadium, not 25 as Tripp Umbach claims, opening up more of the land to other uses.
Richmond developer and former Richmond City Council candidate Charlie Diradour echoed the sentiments of the speakers before him. “We’ve been talking about this for 10 years, folks,” he said. “‘Highest and best use’ is a very important term. We can put a baseball stadium and residential and commercial on that site…I hope we can all get to work and do something important. ‘New urbanism’ isn’t needed–we have old urbanism. It’s called the Fan, Northside, Scott’s Addition, etc. Leave it to the markets–they will handle it.”
Those in attendance agreed, but what about you? And what about those who weren’t galvanized to show up?
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We’ve all got to weigh in
Planning for the Boulevard site is still in its infancy. The initial recommendations from Tripp Umbach are merely a starting point, and will evolve as public comments are recorded over the next several weeks. If you’d like to voice your opinion, you have five more chances at this stage in the game.
- January 20th at 6:00 PM at Southside Community Services Center, 4100 Hull Street Road
- January 26th at 12:00 PM at Huguenot High School Community Center, 7945 Forest Hill Avenue
- January 26th at 6:00 PM at Thomas Jefferson High School, 4100 W. Grace Street
- February 4th at 9:00 AM at Richmond Public Library’s Main Branch, 101 E. Franklin Street
- February 4th at 6:00 PM at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, 1000 Mosby Street
The public is also invited to share their opinions and comments with city officials via email.
Photo: Trevor Dickerson/RVANews