Facing certain defeat at the hands of City Council on Tuesday, Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones temporarily withdrew his Shockoe Bottom ballpark proposal. Style spoke with Jones about how he plans to proceed and whether he has any misgivings about how he's handled the proposal so far.
Style: As you said, City Council appeared to be ready to vote this down. What are you hoping will change going forward?
Jones: Well, we want to make sure that the hundreds of people that came out to our community meetings are not disrespected. We want to make sure that the people who worked on this plan for months and months are not disrespected, because they got all the information that we had at that particular time. And so we want all nine council people to have all of the information. All of them have not heard the information that's been presented in informal meetings, that has been presented in committee meetings, and many have been absent. Some of them have not heard much of it at all, so it's improper for people to make that decision, particularly one as momentous as this without having complete information at their disposal.
So, we're not backing from the plan. It's a great plan, it's a bold plan -- the best plan that's on the table right now that brings jobs, that brings economic development, keeps baseball and deals with heritage, which the city has ignored for generations.
How and when do you expect to reintroduce the plan?
Once we can get people to get the information and we're ready to put it back on the table for an up or down vote.
Would you be willing to give any kind of estimate as to when that might be?
Ask the City Council when they're going to come and hear the information. [Laughs.] As soon as we possibly can. We're not interested in dragging it out. We're not interested in prolonging this. We want to make sure that the work that we've put into it is honored. And we're hoping people will look at it, not parochially, but they'll look at it in terms of what's best for the city of Richmond and not just what's best for a district.
Do you have any regrets about the way you rolled this out? At least as someone on the outside, thinking back to November, it really seemed like you guys had things more put together. Since then, as the council members have described it, more details have really come out in dribs and drabs. Even as recently as February you guys set a rather aggressive deadline and then were unable to meet it.
Well I served 15 years in the General Assembly of Virginia, and we had a motto over there that the devil's in the details. And a project of this magnitude, of this complexity, has a million balls in the air, and it's very difficult, particularly under the scrutiny and transparency of the public arena, to get things done the way we would like to get things done -- just very hard. And so, if we had to do it all over again, would we do it differently? We would have to sit down and look at that when this is all over.
So you don't feel like -- I don't want to use the word bungled, but -- do you feel like you could have handled it better?
Absolutely not. In fact, I feel very good about the fact that we have a vision on the table for the city of Richmond. And that's my job -- to present a citywide vision.
[The mayor's press secretary interjects]
Tammy Hawley: I wanted to point out one thing about that. We took this issue and tried to bring it out in the open and bring it in phases - and now it's like, why wasn't it all together at the beginning? Well, if it was all together at the beginning, he would have had all those discussions that they say he shouldn't have without them knowing he's having.
Jones: If we had put it together, you and your friends would be the first ones to say: "You're being secretive. We want to do a FOIA to find out what you guys are doing there on the second floor of City Hall."
It is an interesting double-edged sword. Council members are complaining about the dribs and drabs but at the same time there's been complaints about the lack of public process. I guess the question would be whether the public process we're seeing -- is it really a public process? Or is it just ... trying to finalize the deal that you put together back in November?
The plan has been revamped as we have gone out and listened to people in the community. The plan has taken into consideration the concerns that we know some City Council people have had. So it's been a process all along.
The most obvious example I could think of would be the response to the amendments that City Council passed back in February when you got the OK to move forward. Is there anything beyond that that you'd point to?
Sure, and the extensive archaeological process that we've gone through. If this was a private development, I promise you that none of this would be getting done. So all of that is a response to the outcry of people who have said this is important to use. So we want to make sure that before we went down there and started digging around that we were not digging around on places that people felt were sacred.