A recent history of The Diamond

Several years ago, people hemmed and hawed over a proposed baseball stadium in Shockoe, and that plan went away. Now the city is again considering bringing a stadium to Shockoe Bottom.

For over 25 years, the Diamond has been the home of Richmond baseball. Just off I-64, millions of fans have poured into the stadium to watch the Braves and the Flying Squirrels battle their opponents. While the stadium is replete with memories of comebacks and mesmerizing home runs, its enduring spirit remains its largest weakness. One of the oldest stadiums in Minor League Baseball still in use, many have called for it to be demolished to make way for something new. Below is a timeline of one of Richmond’s most appreciated landmarks as it approaches the end of its life.

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Update #3 — November 11, 2013; 9:25 AM

Mayor Dwight Jones is expected to announce his plan to refurbish Shockoe on the back of a new baseball stadium later this morning. In addition to plans for a new stadium, the Mayor is expected to call for updated infrastructure, new businesses, and additional housing in Shockoe. A Loving RVA website recently launched, suggesting the Mayor’s plan fits into a broader initiative for the city and its downtown.

Updates from the Mayor’s press conference can be found here.


Update #2 — July 31, 2012

Shockoe Bottom has again been named as a possible location for a new baseball stadium that would replace the 25-year-old Diamond. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, both the Flying Squirrels and the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce have confirmed that they are considering Shockoe for a new ballpark.

A recent plan called for the Diamond to be razed and a new stadium built on or near the same location. It appeared that a four-way partnership had been forged between the Flying Squirrels, city of Richmond, Henrico County, and Chesterfield County to pay for a proposed $60 million stadium. However, both the counties have expressed reservations in funding the project.

Kim Scheeler, president of the Greater Richmond Chamber, said that the development approach would be done “as a way to raise the money to pay for the stadium rather than have the counties put money into it.” Neither officials with the city or the Flying Squirrels have commented on how a Shockoe stadium would be funded.

However, Lou DiBella, president and managing general partner of the Flying Squirrels, said discussions between the ball club and the city are “fruitful, and moving forward, and I believe there will be some kind of timetable established relatively soon.”

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Update #1 — March 26, 2012

In February, the Flying Squirrels announced Ballpark Nutz, a citizen advocacy group aimed to garner support for a new stadium. Organized by the club to “encourage regional action on a plan to fun and build a regional ballpark on the Boulevard,” it was largely viewed as public motivation to get the city and region to act.

Speaking on behalf of the organization, Brian Callaghan, founder and co-CEO of Richmond-based Apex Systems and minority shareholder in the Squirrels, said:

We recognize that the localities are facing difficult choices when it comes to budget priorities, and we believe that, if we work together, we can find a responsible solution that will have a new ballpark in place by the 2015 season.

In March, Mayor Jones proposed a 2012-13 budget for the city that allocated funds to help contribute to replacing the Diamond.

Later that month, the Flying Squirrels released conceptual renderings of what a new stadium might look like. Created by Populous, an international design firm that specializes in sports architecture, the hypothetical ballpark would feature: 6,500 seats, a grass berm for outfield seating, and a children’s play area that would accommodate roughly 9,000 people in total.

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The Squirrels’ second season proved to be even more successful than the previous year:

The Flying Squirrels concluded the regular season with an average home attendance of 6,679, second in the Double-A Eastern League to Reading (6,720). Richmond showed a per-game improvement from the club’s inaugural season (6,626), and had six sellouts of 9,560 at The Diamond.

Despite riding high in both Richmond and the standings, The Squirrels announced in September that they would not invest more money into the stadium. Speaking on the matter, Lou DiBella, the Squirrels’ president said: “I can’t justify to my ownership more of a significant investment. There is a degree to which money you sink into that facility is sort of wasted money.”

Later in October, an article in the Times-Dispatch reported that the Flying Squirels’ were frustrated with the city for lacking specific plans to build a new stadium to replace the Diamond.

DiBella said his ownership group was led to believe by Richmond-area officials that “there would be a new stadium by 2013, and it’s nowhere in sight at the moment.”

Lou DiBella also added this:

“We are not actively looking to other locations at this time, but we have always maintained that our long term success is dependent upon a new facility that our terrific Front Office Staff can maximize for the benefit of the entire metro region. We believe that the RMA and its stakeholders share this same desire and that we will collectively work towards accomplishing this common goal sooner rather than later.”

Mayor Dwight C. Jones quickly affirmed to the public that he did not want to see the Squirrels leave Richmond. He also said that in order for Richmond to build a new stadium, it would require a “financial commitment from regional partners.”

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The Flying Squirrels invested $2 million to upgrade and retrofit the Diamond before the first pitch of the 2010 season.

The inaugural season for the Flying Squirrels proved to be very successful, with attendance numbers at the top of the league. In part because of this success, The Flying Squirrels were contacted by the Washington Nationals who were interested in moving their AA team to the area after the Squirrels’ lease with the city of Richmond expired. The lack of firm plans for a new stadium ultimately dissuaded the Nationals organization, who has a major league squad 100 miles from Richmond.

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The Atlanta Braves move their AAA minor league team, the Richmond Braves, from the Richmond to a suburb of Georgia after over 20 years of calling Richmond home. The R-Braves had a ongoing, tenuous relationship with the city. At the heart of the matter was the Braves’ desire for Richmond to build a new, approximately $60 million stadium to replace the Diamond. The Diamond was built in 1984 at a cost of a reported $8 million.

In September, Richmond signed a lease with the San Francisco Giants’ AA franchise for the Diamond through the 2011 season, with an option to remain through 2012.

Chuck Domino, chief executive manager of the Flying Squirrels, and who has been in baseball for over 30 years, said this when he first toured the Diamond: “This stadium was built upside down.”

photo by rvaphotodude

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