I've written a number of times about the stadium battle in Richmond. But some new developments in the past week or two have quietly put what is likely the final nail in the coffin for baseball in Richmond.
Quick recap: the Richmond Flying Squirrels (one of the most minor leaguish names ever) are the double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, and play in an aging stadium on prime real estate in the center of Richmond. Back in November of 2013, the Mayor Dwight Jones revealed a plan for moving the stadium to another part of the city. The idea had little political support, though, and eventually was withdrawn.
Lately, city officials seemed to be leaning more towards a private plan that would redevelop the current site and build a new ballpark there. But developments in recent months suggest that even that plan is unlikely to end up on the city's agenda.
City Council member Kathy Graziano sent a newsletter to her 4th district residents in January that quietly reflects this shift. Graziano's particular political genius is constituent service, and her newsletter is usually full of the minor details of city living - meetings, recycling information, and tax rebate reminders. But this month's issue included an unusual page-long explanation of her position on the stadium issue.
The key problem for Graziano: revenue for the city. Of the current stadium site, she wrote, "Presently used for 71 baseball games a year, this over 60-acre site produces less revenue than one block in the fan." So how best to develop the site in order to fund services for a growing city?
Graziano is absolutely right here, by the way. Urban politics are all about development - economic development in the broad sense, certainly, but land use above all else. Cities have it particularly hard in the sense that they serve as economic and cultural centers of their regions, but the surrounding localities (I'm looking at you, Henrico and Chesterfield County) don't want to contribute to any of the costs of those central activities. And so it should be no surprise that Graziano calls out these counties: "Is it the responsibility of the city to use its most valuable revenue-producing tract of land to provide a non-revenue producing amenity for the region?"
Back in November, the Mayor's Press Secretary conveyed a similar sentiment when she wrote this in an e-mail: “Let’s be clear that our starting point of the Boulevard conversation is what is the best use of that property for the citizens of Richmond, not whether it is the best site for baseball." This suggests that the Mayor, often the loudest proponent of keeping baseball in Richmond, may not be paying attention anymore.
The Squirrels clearly do have local support; even with all the rumblings about the stadium, they led the league in attendance in 2015 (for the third time in six years). But if the Mayor has all but abandoned his stadium plans, and even strong supporters of the Mayor like Kathy Graziano are moving on, the best bet is that the Flying Squirrels will soon do the same.