Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones has yet to formally release a plan to build a ballpark in Shockoe Bottom, but that hasn’t stopped a long line of high-profile opponents from voicing their distaste for the idea outside City Hall on Monday.
“What concerns those of us speaking today is the sense that economic development has often been at the expense of our ethnic communities’ past,” says Christy S. Coleman, president of the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar. “We are not opposed to growth — in fact we encourage it. But not if the cost is so high that it allows us to forget our past — even the most painful elements of it.”
Shockoe Bottom, a flood-prone entertainment district just east of downtown, once was home to one of the largest slave-trading operations in the country. The group says the majority of African-Americans alive probably can trace some ancestry to the neighborhood.
Also lending their support to the opposition are: Waite Rawls, president and chief executive of the Museum of the Confederacy; Philip J. Schwarz, an emeritus professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University and a nationally recognized expert on the history of slavery in Virginia; Shawn O. Utsey, a VCU professor of psychology and former chairman of the African-American studies department; and Ana Edwards, the chair of Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project of the Defenders of Freedom, Justice and Equality.
Asked about the group’s objections, Mayor Dwight Jones’ senior policy adviser, David Hicks, says it doesn’t make sense to debate a plan that hasn’t been finalized.
“Our position has always been that at such time when there is a proposal, we’re happy to discuss the details,” he says. “But we’re not going to get into a debate just on the concept.” Hicks wouldn’t say when the proposal will be released.
But Edwards said the details of the mayor’s proposal are irrelevant as long as they involve putting a stadium in the district, a concept she says she can’t support under any circumstances. The group is refining a proposal that calls for the land to be converted into a park system that would incorporate a museum and other interpretive elements.
“What is frustrating is that because we are not developers and we don’t carry big pocketbooks, no other idea has been entertained or considered — this is apparently the one bright idea,” Edwards says. “These issues are being developed without input and without vetting in the community — then they present it and say, ‘It’s either this way or nothing will happen.’ It’s like being held hostage.”
Though nothing has been made public, staff briefed City Council and members of the business and development community on the plan last month. Council members say they’ve been presented with two scenarios.
One calls for a stadium in Shockoe Bottom, which the administration has told council members will be financed entirely by revenues from a larger economic development deal on the Boulevard. That plan calls for the construction of a large, mixed-use center where The Diamond is. The city owns nearly 60 acres of land on the Boulevard, and many people consider it prime for the kind of development that would draw residents and shoppers — fattening city coffers.
The second plan calls for a new stadium on the Boulevard, which the administration says would end up costing taxpayers money, though it didn’t offer an exact number.
City Council members have withheld their support, saying they need more details about what the plan for the Boulevard would look like and they need to hear from voters in their districts.
“This needs to be something that the community is behind, not just politicians,” City Council President Charles Samuels says.