Polishing The Diamond 

Why reset it? The Boulevard is a prime destination for cultural and sports activities.

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In recent months there's been incessant talk, and sometimes argument, about building a new stadium development either on the downtown riverfront, near Rocketts Landing, or in Shockoe Bottom. But there is nothing wrong — and a lot to like architecturally and environmentally — with the current ball park and its location on the Boulevard. The facility was built in 1985, according to plans by McDevitt Street Bovis, Inc., a design-build firm.

There were reportedly 6,220 folks at The Diamond the afternoon I was there. Any facility that entertains that many people successfully and regularly for two decades must be made up of component parts that work with precision.

First, there are arrivals (either on foot or by vehicle), who enter the stadium and run the gauntlet of food and souvenir stations before reaching their seats. Then there's the movement within the stadium to restrooms or concessions. Importantly, there are the hours spent watching the game. Finally, there is departure.

At 1:45 p.m., 15 minutes before the first pitch, two friends and I veered off the Boulevard and into a Diamond lot. A pleasant uniformed parking attendant took our $3 and bid us a good afternoon. There were plenty of spaces. We walked for two minutes across the paved lot — past the plain, unlovely back side of the billboards that ring the outfield wall, around a severe-looking picnic shelter softened by mature shade trees and toward the clearly marked ticket office near the Boulevard sidewalk.

A dramatic entryway, just past the ticket-takers, is provided in the form of a too-steep poured-concrete staircase lined with bright-red metal handrails. This leads up to the main concourse. On the concourse are restrooms, refreshment stands and, if one looks up, the leering "Connecticut."

Richmond sculptor Paul DiPasquale's Indian brave looks so at-home here it's difficult to believe the piece was commissioned in the early 1980s not for this space but to sit atop a liquor store on Connecticut Avenue in Washington, D.C. However, zoning hassles nixed the idea, and the piece spent a year beckoning to motorists from the roof of a Best Products catalog showroom in Montgomeryville, Md. In the early 1980s, with the transformation of Parker Field to The Diamond, the Richmond Metropolitan Authority (which owns The Diamond) purchased the Indian brave, which found a safe haven.

My friends and I found our $7 seats easily. Our vantage point seemed to all but hang over the third base line. This provided an intimacy that was punctuated occasionally when a foul ball came in our direction. The roof provided plenty of shade. Throughout the afternoon there was tremendous consumption of popcorn, Cracker Jack, hot dogs, soda and beer.

While much of the discussion about building a new stadium elsewhere has included the attractiveness of being near downtown restaurants, could the typical game-going family or party afford it in addition to the game? A party of four could easily drop $75 to $100 during the time they're in the park. The outdoor experience of watching a game in The Diamond is terrific. It's bigger than small-town, but smaller than major-league. Does it have to mix with, say, another two hours in a nearby bar or restaurant?

After the game, pedestrian traffic flowed smoothly as we descended the steep front staircase. Perhaps the staircase could be rebuilt with a shallower pitch to create an amphitheater feel to this important circulation and design element.

After the game I looked up and down the Boulevard. I was reminded that the thoroughfare and its recreational and cultural institutions in many ways are Richmond. The Boulevard connects Richmonders with the places they love — Maymont, Dogwood Dell and Byrd Park with its tennis courts and lakes. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Virginia Historical Society are dramatically expanding their facilities. The Children's Museum and the Science Museum of Virginia are just a few blocks east. The Sports Backers Stadium, Bryan Park and the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden anchor the northern end. It's a remarkable lineup that any city would envy.

Things are definitely looking up. The Scott's Addition district is being rehabilitated. The Boulevard itself has been landscaped recently, and its plantings are maturing. A multicinema complex has been announced for the corner of Boulevard and Leigh. There is ample open space in the vicinity for possible development. Interstate 95 and Route 64 practically serve as driveways to the area.

The time is ripe for the ballpark to be re-embraced and polished. The Diamond may need an enhanced setting, but let's not blame the beloved jewel itself. S

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