A grass-roots group hoping to keep baseball on the Boulevard is unveiling a proposal this week to redesign The Diamond and bring development to its 60 surrounding acres.
The Save the Diamond Committee, which consists of eight architects, developers and supporters, says that keeping the Richmond Flying Squirrels in their home on the Boulevard is a victory for the city — and its plan saves money, too.
“We can give them a 21st-century ballpark at millions less than what a new ballpark would cost,” says the group’s leader, Harry Warner, a consultant with West Avenue Associates.
The redesign includes major upgrades to the outdated stadium and the addition of a mixed-use development, which the group says would generate millions of dollars in tax revenue. Design schematics are scheduled to be revealed at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the auditorium of the Richmond Public Library.
The committee wouldn’t reveal details of the plan ahead of the press conference tomorrow, but a source who's seen the plan tells Style that the entrance to The Diamond would be moved from the Boulevard to behind first base. This is so a pedestrian approach can link the Diamond to the adjacent Sports Backers stadium. Both facilities currently are unrelated, so this would give the feel of a coordinated multi-sport complex. The Sports Backers stadium is now relatively isolated on the roughly 60-acre site.
A pedestrian plaza also would link both facilities to surrounding retail with the aim to create a critical mass of people to support the venues. Infill housing, offices and retail would establish an urban wall along North Boulevard, which is now parking and grass, and would obscure much of the view of The Diamond. A number of iconic concrete bays from the existing stadium on the south side would be removed to create a more open feel for the overall complex.
“No one has shown any plan or renderings or any idea that The Diamond could be renovated with mixed-use development,” Warner says. “That was our motivation, to show that it could be done.”
The plan comes after advocates of a free-standing children’s hospital stepped back from a push to put the facility on the Boulevard, and as Squirrels officials get increasingly frustrated with a seemingly endless debate about the future of baseball.
Mayor Dwight Jones has ended his plans for a new ballpark in Shockoe Bottom. And he has said baseball isn’t the No. 1 priority on the Boulevard, where he’s calling for a study and community meetings to help determine the area’s best use.
Councilmen Charles Samuels and Jon Baliles also have a proposal in play to solicit developers for the site. But a key difference is that their plan says submissions “may or may not include a Minor League baseball stadium,” according to a position paper from the two.
The Flying Squirrels’ managing partner, Lou DiBella, says the team wants to remain on the Boulevard and be part of any development plans.
The Save the Diamond Committee, which includes the structural engineer of the original Diamond, Thomas Hanson, has been meeting since July 2014. Randy Holmes, president of Glave & Holmes Architecture, drew up the plans for the roughly 50 acres of mixed-use space. Steve Terrill of AECOM laid out plans for the stadium redesign.
Other members of the group include Carlton Moffatt Jr., Rick Tatnall of Replenish Richmond, developer John Dempsey and contractor Jim Lee.
But the group hasn’t identified a funding source. Warner says the committee has no economic stake in the future of the Boulevard and drew up its plans out of love for the city, with hopes that deeper pockets could make the dream a reality.
Warner says that perhaps the city, and the counties of Chesterfield, Henrico and Hanover, could come together to lend financial support.
Flying Squirrels Vice President Todd “Parney” Parnell met with the group in the last two weeks. “We are intrigued by what they have to say,” he says, adding that “it’s too early to say anything” about the team’s stance on the proposal.