The Mayor's Big Play 

Squirrels could move to suburbs, reviving hospital plan.

click to enlarge Regional cooperation with the counties could mean a new children's hospital at the site of the Squirrels' current ballpark, the Diamond.
  • Regional cooperation with the counties could mean a new children's hospital at the site of the Squirrels' current ballpark, the Diamond.

The long-standing logjam involving a proposed new stadium for the Richmond Flying Squirrels baseball team and a new, independent children’s hospital may finally have been broken.

Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones announced late Friday that he has met with various groups to discuss a breakthrough deal in which the old Diamond stadium used by the Double AA baseball team would possibly move to Henrico or Chesterfield County. A children’s hospital could replace it at that existing Diamond site.

If the deal happens, it would mean a new step for regional cooperation that critics say has been lacking the Richmond area for years.

Moving the baseball team to a new suburban site would free up the old Diamond site located on North Boulevard near the Intersections of Interstates 95 and 64 for new development.

That could include a new and independent children’s hospital that has been advocated by a group of local pediatricians and philanthropist William Goodwin despite opposition by Virginia Commonwealth University Health Systems and Bon Secours Richmond Health System.

"Today, we met with representatives of the Squirrels and the President of the Eastern League. We agreed that the Squirrels should meet with all localities in the Richmond area to explore potential locations that have easy access and visibility for Squirrels fans," according to Jones’ statement.

Jones proposed extending the Squirrels’ lease at the Diamond to run until 2017. It had been scheduled to expire in 2016.

Jones’ announcement came a month and a half after Squirrels owner Lou DiBella decried the lack of progress on either fixing the Diamond or finding a site for a new stadium.

“The elevator is a decade older. I hate the fact that the elderly can’t take full advantage of our ballpark. They can’t come. I hate the fact that our wounded warriors can’t access the park. Or children. That’s not OK. It shouldn’t be OK to Major [Dwight] Jones. That shouldn’t be OK to the county leaders. That shouldn’t be OK to the City Council members. It shouldn’t be OK to the citizens of Richmond,” DiBella told Style.

Leaders in Henrico and Chesterfield counties have so far stayed away from the Diamond controversy, saying they can’t deal with the projected cost of a new stadium. But Jones’ statement indicates he has met with administrators from both counties to explore relocating the Squirrels to a new ballpark in one of them.

The existing Diamond site would then be available for an independent children’s hospital that would centralize high level pediatric care and perhaps grow Richmond’s reputation as a strong regional medical center.

To do that, backers needed the support of VCU and Bon Secours. But both said in May that they were no longer supporting an independent childrens’ hospital because the local market could not support it. The new hospital idea would also require them to cut back on their pediatric care so some of it could be consolidated at a new hospital offering an advanced level of treatment.

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