Wednesday, February 26, 2014

It's not a stadium plan; it's a development plan

A view of 15th Street looking down into what was once Richmond's slave trading district.
It's a development plan.

Richmond's single largest source of tax revenue is real estate taxes. Another large source of revenue is sales tax revenue. A large portion of Shockoe Bottom is sitting vacant and blighted--the city owns a large portion of the land to be developed, and it can't very tax itself.

The existing ball field--the "Diamond"--is over-aged and needs to be replaced. It also sits on land that is extremely valuable and could be re-developed. The Diamond is currently surrounded by wide expanses of surface parking--all could be developed into retail, residential, and mixed use, creating an ongoing source of real estate tax revenue. The retail development of this area would provide a stream of sales tax revenue and it would allow Richmonders to do more of their shopping in Richmond instead of driving out to the counties--keeping our tax money in the city.

The development plan proposed by the mayor also solves several problems in Shockoe Bottom. The highest priority is the Slavery Heritage site centered on Lumpkin's Jail and the Old African Burial Grounds. The plan prioritizes the construction of a slavery museum at Lumpkin's.

Another key part of the plan that critics never bother to mention is correcting flooding issues connected with Shockoe Creek, which will make it safe to develop surrounding properties with a hotel, grocery store, and high end apartments.

The goal of all this development is to dramatically enhance this city's tax base so the increased revenue can be spent on things like schools and affordable housing.

One of the key objections raised by critics of the plan is that somehow it will "desecrate hallowed ground." A red flag should go up when you hear this issue raised. The main supporters of this plan are African American; most of those stamping their feet about desecration are white, middle class people who live near the current Diamond. It's a hell of a thing that the African American parts of Richmond are too "historic" to get redevelopment dollars, so all the development needs to go in the white majority areas.

This building at 15th and Cary is the last known to have housed a slave market in Richmond, Virginia.
No one protested when it was turned into apartments and offices instead of a museum.
Councilman Samuels, in whose district the Diamond sits, has been desperate to stall the development plan any way he can. His latest stall tactic was to require a massive archeological dig paid for out of developers' pockets before any construction could begin. This is a red herring. Slavery in Virginia did not occur in Biblical times. We have a surprisingly large amount of information about slavery in Richmond.

Slavery was a business, and the men who conducted that business left an ample trail of evidence about their whereabouts and activities. They advertised in newspapers and were listed in city directories, the "phone books" of their day. You don't need to conduct a giant archeological dig: all you need is a copy of the city directory for 1860 and the back catalog of the Daily Dispatch and you can find the dealers in slaves. We know pretty much exactly where slaves were bought, sold, and rented.

Take a moment and look at this map, I'll wait.

As this map clearly shows, the center of Richmond's slave market was to the west of the Lumpkin's site, along 15th, Main, and Franklin Streets. The handful of sites near the proposed development ARE ALREADY BUILT OVER. I have yet to hear anyone propose tearing down any building built on a site where slaves were sold. At 15th and Main, a strip club sits on the site where slaves were once sold--I have yet to hear any complaints from stadium opponents who think that baseball--the national pastime --is a desecration. Stripping women on a slave site is apparently fine; the irony of women stripping at a location where slave women doubtless were force to strip before being sold is apparently lost on them.

This strip club at 15th and Main sits in the heart of what was once Richmond's slave trading district.
The opposition to the development plan has been extremely vocal, to the point of being shrill, but they are outnumbered by people who support the plan and who quietly want to shake things up in Richmond. The city council meeting was a study in contrasts. The "Antis" were made up of a variety of people from Richmond's counter-culture: anarchists, Occupy Richmond holdouts, various cranks, and one guy who came to speak against the Slavery Heritage site because Blacks need to "get over" slavery. Yep, that happened.

The pros were young urban professionals, small business owners, and generally people with a positive outlook who want Richmond to move forward. The owner of part of the land needed for the plan--the plot where an Exxon gas station currently sits--came forward and said emotionally that if it would help Richmond move forward he would give up his land (by which I think he meant he would sell it for a fair price).

In contrast, the "Antis" have begun resorting to threats, intimidation, harassment, and vandalism. Some of them have basically threatened a guerilla war if the development plan is approved. Their tactics speak volumes: these are the tactics of a tiny minority attempting to impose its views on the democratically elected majority.

Richmond needs development and Mayor Jones has offered us a plan. Is it perfect? Of course not--no product of human agency ever is. I think the amendments offered by Councilman Jon Baliles and Councilwoman Cynthia Newbille improved the plan. I think other improvements can be made and I'm pretty sure they will be as more people contribute ideas to the mix.

I am equally confident that any attempt by a tiny minority to impose its views on a democratically elected majority by means of a campaign of threats, intimidation, harassment, and vandalism must be opposed, and will be.

The proposed stadium site: parking lots and abandoned buildings.


SD said...

Where are you getting your information? "His latest stall tactic was to require a massive archeological dig paid for out of developers' pockets before any construction could begin."
This is actually a federal historic sites requirement, not up to the choosing of any Councilmember: "Undertakings with the potential for extensive ground disturbance generally will require a more involved effort to identify archaeological properties than those with less ground disturbance. For example, the proposed construction of a new multi-story federal complex with underground parking on a vacant city block may require an intensive survey and deep testing in order to identify eligible
archaeological sites. On the other hand, construction of a surface parking lot may require investigations into only the top foot of the soil." (from

Staff said...

"Survey" and "testing" are a far cry from a full on archeological dig.

I agree that there should be some investigation of the site, particularly with metal detectors and other methods for penetrating the ground.

But a massive, systematic dig 6-8 feet down on an area that, for the most part, does not have any known slave sites, is a waste of time.

Paul Hammond said...

Care to join us here?

C. Wayne Taylor said...

In my view this article contains at least 12 errors of fact, logic and omission.

Leslie Rubio said...

The development offices' plan is flawed and the dollars don't add also relies on the "Flying Squirrels" a AA team to be in place for 30 years, paying rent in the Bottom stadium. Suppose the Squirrels are no more...they flop or go out of business...Richmond is on the hook for the $. Developers, Salomonski, the Exxon owner...they will all profit from this deal...not the taxpayer or citizens. The few jobs that will be created are temporary, and are low paying jobs. No one really knows what is under the asphalt...95 was built on top of much of the history of the area and no consideration given to the history. The ballfield we have is fine...maybe it needs to be updated, the location is fine, and retail could be built on the Boulevard to go with it. There is no reason to destroy an historic area for big's not going to bring the anticipated revenue. I think there is alot more to be discovered in the Bottom if it was only a priority!