City Council's new stadium magic

The Richmond City Council has apparently found the magic bullet that will help save the Mayor's Shockoe stadium plan: regional cooperation. According to Mark Robinson at Richmond mag:

Richmond City Council unanimously approved a resolution at Monday’s meeting requesting that Mayor Dwight C. Jones seek “regional participation from Chesterfield County, Hanover County, and Henrico County in the city’s efforts to develop a minor leagues baseball stadium at a location within the Richmond region.” Introduced last September, the resolution passed with no discussion from council members.

So - problem solved? Not exactly. Regional cooperation may be a magical solution for solving development problems in urban areas, for sure. But like any magic, there usually isn't as much to it as it appears.

Richmond already relies on regional cooperation to run the Diamond; in fact, the ballpark is owned and operated by the Richmond Metropolitan Transportation Authority (RMTA), a state-sanctioned governing body that includes representatives from the city, Chesterfield County, and Henrico County. (The RMTA also runs the Powhite Parkway, the Boulevard Bridge, and some other stuff around town.)

But this body is already the source of considerable tension between the city and counties. Delegate Manoli Loupassi, who represents part of Chesterfield, got a state law passed last year that re-organized the group to reduce the city's power and increase county representation. (It also renamed the body, which used to be called the Richmond Metropolitan Authority.) This raised the ire of other local counties, who don't want to be left out of a body that claims to speak for the entire region.

(More discouraging signs about the RMTA: they held their first meeting without Chesterfield County, and a year later, they haven't updated their website, which still features the old RMA name and logo.)

Look: regional cooperation and planning is super-hard to pull off. Localities more often find themselves in economic competition with each other. Businesses and venues that take their tax revenues from the city to the surrounding suburbs, or vice versa, can be part of a zero-sum game. This is why states bend over backwards to lure businesses; Terry McAuliffe wanted Virginia, not Ohio, to get those Stone Brewery jobs. (And within the state, Richmond beat out Norfolk as well.)

Most cities will have regional planning efforts, but they are usually advisory bodies that have little actual power beyond providing guidance to localities, who are free to ignore them. (Richmond has a regional planning commission that serves this purpose.)

Authorities like the RMTA are a little different; they do have some power over the areas of development to which they've been granted control. But they still rely on the good will of their member governments. And the Mayor, whose political plan for the stadium has seemed inexplicable from the start, has never reached out to these governments. And the counties have to see what's in it for them before they sign on to any development plan. The argument is that the entire region benefits from the economic development the stadium would provide, but that's a hard case to make.

The fact that this latest Council resolution comes from Councilmembers Samuels and Baliles, both of whom have opposed the mayor on the stadium in the past, should tell us something. Maybe they already know that regional cooperation is not going to save the mayor's ballpark plan. At this point, it might take some real, Harry Potter-style magic, and I don't think the Mayor has a magic wand.