The Mayor's Money 

The windfall settles: How the mayor plans to spend your money.

Ballparks! Shockoe Bottom promenades! Riverfront terraces! At first reluctant to divvy up the city’s $62.1 million payday from the Richmond Metropolitan Authority, Mayor Dwight Jones unleashed the free money giveaway Friday in something of a turnabout.

Citing the necessity to “bring this budget forward,” Jones explained that the city has to disclose the funds within the current budget cycle -- it’s a legal requirement -- which meant no waiting until after the fall election to decide how to spend the $62 million. The money is the result of the toll road authority repaying long-lost loans from the city. But, of course, there’s more to it than that.

“We think we have proposed ideas that actually turn the $62.1 million dollars into more money,” Jones told a roomful of reporters at City Hall Friday in a budgetary sneak peek. The biggest news is that Jones will use a little less than half to pay off some high interest debt -- about $26.5 million currently accumulating 5 percent interest -- and then reissue $36 million in lower-interest debt.

“By paying off that debt at the high interest rate, it will allow us to borrow new debt at more affordable and lower rates,” Jones said, adding: “The other silver lining we realize with the paying down of our debt is that with these debt savings we can fund our portion of a regional project to build a baseball stadium.”

“Our portion,” in this instance, is about $12.5 million, assuming the new stadium costs approximately $50 million. By replacing high-interest debt with lower interest debt, the city will be able to set aside $1.2 million a year to pay the expected debt service on $12.5 million, explained Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that Henrico and Chesterfield counties are setting aside any money. Each has supposedly, at some point, maybe informally or not all, agreed to pony up a quarter of the cost, with the Flying Squirrels picking up the remaining 25 percent. Jones was careful to point out that this setting aside of funds shouldn’t be misinterpreted: “We are not putting any pressure on our regional partners to do anything,” he said. Surely, the Squirrels can appreciate that.

There’s so much more to come. Jones is expected to detail his tough love funding plans for Richmond Schools on Monday, and then present his budget to City Council on Tuesday. But here are a couple of the highlights for those who just can’t wait:

About $5 million is being set aside for a Shockoe Bottom promenade to bolster the city’s redevelopment of the train shed at Main Street Station, and the Bottom in general. It apparently will be at the existing 17th Street Farmer’s Market, but details so far are sketchy. Technically, a promenade is just a walkway, so not sure how it’s different from what’s there now. Tammy Hawley, the mayor’s press secretary, promises more details in the coming days.

The mayor talked very excitedly about a $14 million renovation of the Landmark Theater, which he says will somehow generate an additional $36 million through the “use of historic tax credits, naming opportunities and corporate and other private funding.” This could be tricky, as we’re fairly certain the city, which owns the Landmark Theater, can’t itself redistribute historic tax credits (the idea being that you have to pay taxes in order to receive tax credits). Might this involve selling the Landmark, which is assessed at $20 million, to CenterStage Foundation or some other private entity, which could then take advantage of the historic tax credits?

“We already have Richmond CenterStage committed as a partner to this idea,” Jones said. “Basically, for every dollar we invest it will generate $2.80 in return. This will allow this $14 million to turn into a $50 million renovation for this historic site.” This plan will likely require some additional scrutiny.

There’s another $5 million to build riverfront terraces to make the James more accessible, $2.5 million to begin redeveloping Whitcomb and Creighton courts, two of the city’s public housing projects, not to mention money to spruce up an industrial manufacturing park along Interstate 95.

Again, there is much more to the mayor’s fourth budget, which is critical coming into an election year. How it’s received by City Council in the coming weeks will be interesting.

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