Is Ballpark Proposal a “Perfect Storm”? 

The article that Scott Bass wrote last week is dead on and asks the kinds of questions that Richmond citizens are also asking (“The Umpire's New Clothes,” Cover Story, Feb. 18). Who creates the financing authority, the city or the state? What is the real cost of the infrastructure taxpayers will have to cough up to make this ball field handle the watershed from 8,000 acres of city land into Shockoe Bottom? What real new revenue will be generated when the reality is revenue will simply be relocated to Shockoe Bottom from other commercial areas of the city? In the current economic climate, can Richmond fill the additional retail square footage when shopping centers across the metropolitan area are already filled with empty store fronts? What investor will buy the bonds for a project like this? If in the future the ballpark goes into foreclosure, who will be lining up to purchase a single-use facility such as a ballpark?

Unfortunately, the questions are numerous and the concrete answers are few. The taxpayers are not stupid and are rightfully concerned this is a perfect storm for future financial disaster.

I want development for Shockoe Bottom, but not at any cost. Further, I think everyone is missing the point on the type of development that should be considered. Has anyone every heard of heritage tourism? This is one of the fastest growing industries in the country and Shockoe Bottom is a virtual gold mine of revenue if developed with its authentic history as the focus.

The recently completed Lumpkin's Jail excavation proved to be one of the richest excavations ever endeavored by the James River Institute of Archaeology, producing the remarkably intact site. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a larger jail site of Mr. Henry Adkinson directly next door. Archaeologists at the James River Institute venture that this complex may also be intact under the foundations of the Seaboard building shed. Additionally, we also know there were between 40-50 slave auction sites dotted throughout Shockoe Bottom as slave trading here in Richmond was really big business. Few Richmonders know that just prior to the Civil War, Richmond was the slave-trading center in the country; a virtual ground zero for the slave trade. To validate this claim, Kim Chen, a local architectural historian, nominated the area to the state and National Registers of Historic Places. She recently found out her nomination entitled “The Slave Trade as Commercial Enterprise in Richmond Virginia” was adopted by the secretary of the interior, through the National Park Service.

Her nomination regarding Richmond's slave trade is the second historic district nomination bestowed on Shockoe Bottom. Richmond ought to be developing the tourism potential around this authentic history; yet we are talking about building a ball field.

Call me crazy, but it seems that if Richmond is going to spend almost $400 million on development in Shockoe Bottom, we should get it right. We should be resolving this topic with a public planning process such as the one set forth by Rachel Flynn for the Downtown Master Plan. That process of public input produced the best plan ever for Downtown Richmond. Shockoe Bottom deserves the same respect. This is Richmond's future and we must control it. We must not be lead astray by the latest trend in sports complexes.
David Herring


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