The former Richmond city manager -- a friend and confidante of Mayor L. Douglas Wilder -- is eyeing a local comeback, only this time as a private developer who proposes to keep baseball in Richmond by redeveloping the North Boulevard corridor into a major sports and retail complex. The centerpiece of the development would be an 8,000-seat baseball stadium for a new minor-league baseball team -- yet unannounced -- to replace the Richmond Braves, a source says.
Earlier this year, the Braves, playing the last of its 42 seasons in Richmond, inked a deal to move into a new stadium in Gwinnett County, Ga.
The Robert Bobb Group LLC in Washington, D.C., is one of a handful of development teams in the running to develop the area around The Diamond and the Arthur Ashe Center. Bobb's team sent a proposal to Richmond officials dated Feb. 19 in response to a city-issued request for proposals to develop North Boulevard. Bobb's group proposes tearing down both The Diamond, which opened in 1985 with 12,000 seats, the Arthur Ashe Center next door and "all of the existing Public Works and Richmond Public Schools facilities," according to documents obtained by Style.
The group would then build in its place a multi-pronged sports and retail complex, called "The Arthur Ashe Learning and Sports Megaplex," which includes:
A new 200,000-square-foot Arthur Ashe Center featuring a 200-meter indoor track, an indoor soccer field, a 50-meter swimming pool and a 30-foot climbing wall, among other amenities.
An 8,000-seat minor-league ballpark and adjacent 19,000-square-foot baseball training facility.
A 6,500-seat basketball arena that would become the new home of Virginia Union University's basketball team.
A 60,000-square-foot tennis center for Virginia Commonwealth University, along with several outdoor courts and a 10,000-square-foot sports medicine center.
In addition to the sports facilities, Bobb's group also proposes building a new 200-bed hotel and retail shops totaling 373,700 square feet. In his proposal to the city, Bobb also claims to have a "letter of interest" from a big box retailer for a 200,000-square-foot store on the site.
Bobb, who served as Richmond's city manager from 1986 to 1997, is currently serving as president of the D.C. State Board of Education, a government-run advisory board to District of Columbia's State Superintendent and Washington's Mayor Adrian Fenty. Bobb's name also has been bandied about as a potential mayoral candidate in Richmond and occasionally as a possible successor to Richmond Schools Superintendent Deborah Jewell-Sherman.
Bobb didn't return calls seeking comment by press time. His team includes a number of minority-owned architectural and development partners, including one based in Richmond -- KEi Architects -- and the Richmond office of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc., which is managed by Diane Linderman, former director of the Richmond's Department of Public Works.
The proposal doesn't include details concerning the cost of the project or how it would be financed, but suggests the creation of a special tax district, similar to what was once proposed for a new ballpark in Shockoe Bottom. The project could be partially financed, for example, by diverting real estate and sales taxes generated within the North Boulevard complex.
It doesn't mention a specific baseball team, either. City officials wouldn't release details about the city's request for proposals, or Bobb's response, because it's considered an "active project," Wilder spokesman Linwood Norman says in an e-mail. It's unclear how many other proposals have been submitted to the city.
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