Full Circle

Opinion: Putting a ring around the Diamond will show politicians the will of the people.

On Sunday, August 3, at 2 p.m., my hope is to see a lively gathering form to encircle Richmond’s rather distinctive baseball stadium. My estimate is that if people are approximately three feet from one another, it will take close to 1,000 good citizens to put a ring of humanity around the Diamond.

If that happens it will be partly because the weather cooperates. Moreover, it will be because enough everyday people will devote an hour or so of their time to showing they care about resolving the baseball stadium issue sensibly. What it won’t mean is that those on the sidewalk all agree on one underlying reason why they showed up.

There will be no consensus for the most important reason to say, “No!” to Mayor Dwight Jones’ so-called “revitalization” plan — a plan that would build a stadium in Shockoe Bottom. Nor will they be of one mind about the primary reason for supporting baseball on the Boulevard. What the outpouring of solidarity to form a ring around the Diamond will be calling for is that City Council should finally heed the will of the people.

Last October the Richmond Times-Dispatch published the results of a poll that indicated Richmonders opposed building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom by a two-to-one margin. Nonetheless, a month later Mayor Jones unveiled the LovingRVA propaganda push to help win support for a Shockoe Stadium.

In the eight months since then, nothing has happened to indicate the support for Jones’ plan has improved, numbers-wise. Instead, it appears the LovingRVA campaign has been a dismal flop. Given all that, a week ago I decided to launch the A Ring Around the Diamond event page on Facebook; it started gaining momentum right away.

We had intended to stage the event on July 27th, but a forecast of almost certain rain prompted the rescheduling of the demonstration to this coming Sunday, when the Flying Squirrels will be on the road again. We have no desire to inconvenience baseball fans with our event.

Should a hurricane come to bear on our plans on August 3, we’ll just reschedule again. It’s going to happen.

On Sunday, if we can turnout just 10 percent of those who want to protect historically significant Shockoe Bottom from a wrongheaded development, and 10 percent of those who want to renovate the Diamond, and 10 percent of those who prefer to build a new stadium on the Boulevard, and 10 percent of those who think professional baseball would likely fail in Shockoe Bottom, and 10 percent of those who don’t think the city should misuse its limited ability to borrow money on spectator sports — instead of fixing school roofs and crumbling roadways — well, that will put several rings of 1,000 people each around the Diamond.

My own involvement with this issue began when I was writing on politics and sports regularly for Richmond.com years ago. When the short-lived Richmond Baseball Initiative group began talking about a new baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom, my sense of it then was their scheme wasn’t about baseball at all. Instead, it seemed to be about real estate and a windfall for those who would profit from such a venture. Plus, I saw the Diamond as far from being in need of replacing.

So, I challenged the RBI plan. As one who had been going to ball games on the Boulevard since childhood, I was convinced that too many baseball fans would not go to games in Shockoe Bottom. Unfortunately, before it fell apart in 2005, RBI’s speculative game had the effect of unraveling the regional cooperation that had built the Diamond and approved of the Richmond Metropolitan Authority’s $18.5 million plan to refurbish it. The two surrounding counties walked away and have stayed on the sideline since.

In 2009 another baseball-in-the-Bottom plan rose and fell in a bad economy. This time around I noted an outspoken opposition to Shockoe Stadium had developed in town; my own reasons for opposing it had expanded, too. At mid-summer five years ago, Mayor Jones appeared happy to see the matter resolved and content with keeping baseball on the Boulevard.

Folks can argue about why, but Jones changed his mind. In recent months the mayor has all but made a fool of himself trying to salvage the third version of a bad plan. His tokenistic tugging on the heartstrings of those who want to establish a museum devoted to telling the history of the slave trade that once thrived in that ancient neighborhood, adjacent to the James River, has been galling.

Of course, since all this started 10 years ago, a lot more has been learned about the history of the slave jails in Shockoe Bottom. The Academy Award-winning movie, “12 Years a Slave” (2013), has focused national attention to the cause of preserving what many now see as sacred ground. While the funding to build a proper museum/heritage site may not be there today, I have no doubt that such a righteous project can be put together much better without an extraneous baseball stadium sitting on a part of that scared ground.

Most recently, a Save the Diamond movement has gotten underway and is gaining traction. The Diamond’s designer, Thomas Hanson, has reemerged to remind us it was built to last 100 years and could be renovated for a fraction of the cost of a new stadium.

Now the debate has come full circle. In lean times fixing up the Diamond makes a lot of sense. Shoehorning a baseball stadium into Shockoe Bottom didn’t make much sense 10 years ago and it never will.

So far, the most effective thing to force local politicians to consider the will of the people on this issue was the student demonstration at City Hall on April 28. Like that noteworthy effort, a ring around the Diamond will create an unforgettable picture.


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