Top 10 reasons the Shockoe ballpark is a bad idea

At this point, we all know that Mayor Jones wants to build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom. He’s doing his best to convince us that it’s a good idea for Richmond. Here are 10 reasons why I think he’s wrong:

1. Baseball parks are disposable. Baseball stadiums don’t last. Even Yankee’s Stadium, “The house that Ruth built,” was demolished for something bigger and better. Here it is in all its glorious ruin:

Yankee Stadium

In the case of Shockoe Bottom, we are planning to build more developments alongside our stadium concourse. Do we have a plan for how we’re going to retrofit the concourse when the stadium is out of date? Honestly, how long will this stadium last. 50 years? 100 years? I bet Main St. Station will be standing long after the ballpark has come and gone.

2. The team could ditch us. Contracts can always be broken. If the team leaves, the league has apparently agreed to cover the cost, but what will we do with the space at that point? Last fall, the Atlanta Braves announced they have received the government approval to build a new stadium in nearby Cobb County. They recently released stunning designs for this new stadium complex that they are hoping finish by the 2017 season. If they move forward with the plan, Atlanta will start scrambling to find a new use for Turner Field:

turner field

3. Stadiums are only good for one thing. It’s not good to devote so much valuable urban land to one single use. Urban areas are dense and integrated with housing, businesses, institutions, and public space all nearby. These areas of cities are best for many uses (at a park you can picnic, host a concert, play basketball, organize, or do yoga). In contrast, ballparks are PERFECT for the suburbs where everything is already spread out, huge and single-use. One example is Ranger’s stadium in Arlington:

Rangers

4. Stadiums don’t add value to daily life. Stadiums are used for about 164 games each year. Even on those days, they are only full for the 3-5 hours that visitors spend on the premises. The other 201 days they are mostly empty aside from practices and sports camps for kids. For the majority of their lifespan, stadiums are empty. In contrast, some of the most-visited places in the world are places that simply enhance the daily life of residents and tourists for generations:

Brooklyn

Even intersections can become 24-hour tourist attractions:

Times square

5. Baseball stadiums are not public space. In the middle of almost every admirable city there is open, public space (see two photos above). Public space can be integrated into the fabric of the city: alongside railroad tracks and highways, next to rivers, and across from businesses. Here are a few more:

Copenhagen
PortlandDresden

6. Richmond doesn’t want a ballpark in Shockoe Bottom. Mayor Jones and his advisers are the sort of politicians that believe they know what’s best for their citizens. There will never be a public vote on this plan because Jones knows that it would fail. He also wouldn’t put to a vote because he doesn’t care. This attitude is particularly offensive as someone who thinks that Richmond is a pretty smart and sophisticated place. I honestly believe if Jones had engaged a group of knowledgable citizens in the process, the final plan would have been incredible. Maybe we would have ended up with something like this:

bryan park

Notice all the shops and cafes nearby? Bryant Park is an asset to many businesses  in the area and is connected to the nearby New York Public Library. It’s also a model that could be emulated in Richmond. The park is maintained by a publicly-funded private entity, the Bryant Park Corporation. According to Wikipedia, “… BPC is now funded by assessments on property and businesses adjacent to the park, and by revenue generated from events held at the park.”

7. Richmond is the River City. If Mayor Jones wants to build a signature development, he should focus on something that is quintessentially “Richmond.” He should invest in something that is unique and timeless:

James

I know the mayor has plans to continue the riverfront redevelopment plan, but I don’t think he realizes the ballpark could begin to outweigh the river in our public image. Richmond could be known as a city of timeless architecture and natural beauty. The ballpark is neither of those things.

8. The ballpark is destined for mediocrity. Why do we want the crown jewel of Richmond to be a stadium for a minor league baseball team? As we improve our image locally and nationally, we should strive to keep our most valuable assets in the center of the city. I love The Squirrels and I think their games are fun and easy to love. I just think we can do better for the center of our city. Many people have mentioned the need for a slavery museum. There has been a backlash of people saying that museums are boring, but I think a museum could be world-class, free, and could encourage a spirit of learning. Unlike a baseball team, local history isn’t going anywhere. Also, we would have an easier time seeking donations for something historically significant. Maybe something like this:

Bilbao

Bilbao is a city of 350,000 people in northern Spain. This museum cost $89 million through a partnership with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Richmond is a city of 201,000 people. We’re planning to build a minor league baseball stadium for $50 million without any international partnership. Which project is worth the cost? The whole world knows about Bilbao because that city dared to do something world-class. Even Roanoke turned heads in 2007 with the construction of a museum that set a new design standard for the region.

9. We’ve tried this before. The city of Richmond has funded and subsidized many single-use, large-scale venues in the past. These include the Richmond Coliseum, the Greater Richmond Convention Center, and the Carpenter Center. Each of these was built or renovated with the hope that they would help revitalize the area around them. The results have been mixed. I personally love the Carpenter Center and I think that it has been the most successful example in conjunction with grants extended to business on Grace St. More recently, efforts to encourage development on Broad have had incredible results. These have come from the hard work of citizens and government employees. The large-scale developments may have played some small role. That sort of revitalization will come with a more small-scale, intensional reinvestment program.

10. Richmond deserves better. It’s really irresponsible to spend our time and precious resources on something that will eventually be outdated. We can’t devote valuable land in the center of our city to the construction of a building that will be used for 70 days out of the year by a minor league baseball team that could leave. Even if they leave after 30 years, we’ll still be scrambling to find a use for the space. But there is no other use for the space because stadiums can’t be retrofitted or rebuilt. We can’t afford to ignore the rest of the city and try, once again, to revitalize Richmond with a big, flashy project downtown that is being celebrated as the future of Richmond.

If we must have a big project, we should at least build something that will be historically, architecturally, and culturally significant as well as something that is relevant to the place and people of Richmond.

“World-class cities are not built on a foundation of minor-league ideas.”

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13 responses to “Top 10 reasons the Shockoe ballpark is a bad idea

  1. Can’t find any info on this organization or who authored this piece. Could you please post that information? Thank you.

    • Hey Jean,

      Thanks for reading! It’s just a personal blog. You can get in touch with me through my Twitter feed at the top of the page. Let me know if that doesn’t work.

      -Michael

  2. I appreciate the detail in this piece but argue some points:

    1) Maybe. Yes Main Street Station (head house) will not be torn down as it a building protected by it’s historical significance. Your guess is as good as anyone else’s about what may endure.

    2) Maybe, yes contracts can be broken but Richmond has a better chance of not losing The Squirrels if a long overdue stadium plan keeps them interested in remaining a part of the community. Without something, they are leaving as The Braves did.

    3) Wrong, already Richmond 2015 is discussing using the stadium after the baseball season for opening ceremonies. Like the Redskins training facility which offers it’s facilities for rent to local lacrosse and soccer teams when not in use, this stadium may have many alternative uses including concerts.

    4) Wrong, the stadium plans include a slave trail museum which would be a year round tourist attraction. Richmond’s tourist spaces are disjointed and the slave trail museum, in the center of several major attractions, would provide cohesion. A suburban stadium would not.

    5) Okay, though not a public space, nearby public spaces are enhanced and the “walkability” of Richmond is enhanced. The stadium is steps from the Virginia Capital Trail trailhead. Richmond wants to improve itself as a bike/walk city. The stadium would allow thousands of nearby residents to bike/walk to games or other events there.

    6) Foul, slamming a mayor with vision and assuming you know what he thinks is small minded. A hotel, grocery store, retail, residences, and office is part of the proposed plan. Compare Richmond to similar cities, New York City is not one of them.

    7) Agreed, consensus agrees “the river is our greatest asset. The mayor and city council have endorsed the following: http://www.hraadvisors.com/news/richmond-riverfront-plan-approved-by-city-council/ The stadium would allow both residents and visitors to take in multiple elements of The Riverfront Plan in a single day. The detail that the stadium is not “on” the river is irrelevant as it compares to your other suggestions. Suggesting Richmond is not a baseball city flies in the face of thousands who support baseball in RVA. If Richmond supports any sports continuously, it is baseball.

    8) Dead wrong, the slave trail museum is part of the project and it is endorsed by Delores McQuinn, Chairwoman of the City’s Slave Trail Commission. Unfortunately, with the failure of the Fredericksburg slavery museum, it has been proven that not enough public/private money is available to develop what is so historically significant in American history. The stadium incorporates the slavery museum which may not be able to be recognized without it. Richmond is a minor league city. I’d argue your multiple comments about RVA being “World Class” are much bigger dreams than the mayor’s.

    9) What? The Colosseum still stands in Rome. The Richmond Coliseum is dated but still serves a useful purpose. The Convention Center does too. I guess you are not aware of the street level revitalization that has occurred on Broad Street. First Fridays, Bon Appetite, great new restaurants, new apartments, a Federal Courthouse, a Hilton Garden. Your comment about Center Stage now known as The Carpenter Center for Preforming Arts is nonsense.

    10) Tired? your ninth point showed naivety and weariness. Redundancy to make a top 10 list is weak. You previously stated the stadium would be torn down before Main Street Station; here you forecast 45 years into the future. “If we must have a big project” means you have to have financing. The stadium has a financing plan as does Gateway Center, McGuire Woods new building in the CBD. Same with VCU’s Art Center. Tell me how many other similar sized cities have a CBD office tower under construction. It just costs money. Your list will get a lot of attention. I just can’t tell if you are throwing water on an idea for the hell of it or trying to garner support for an alternative development.

  3. Hi Fred,

    Thanks for your comments and copy edits. To your first two responses, I think we both know there are some things that last. Sports arenas do not last. There are a few very historic stadiums that have stood the test of time, but even the most venerable are at risk of being torn down. That is because they are, at their core, money-making enterprises. And that is the entire crux of the argument: do we want a development in Shockoe Bottom that is only worth as much money as it can generate? Once the stadiums stop producing (or, in the case of Atlanta, there is a more lucrative option around the corner), they are worthless. I know it could be different in our city, but we can’t know for sure. I’m just looking around the country and reporting what I see.

    To your fourth point, are you so sure? What are the statistics on the usage at the Redskins Training Camp? Also, the bike race is a once-in-a-lifetime event. I am excited that it’s coming to Richmond, but it doesn’t sound like a very long-term argument for the ballpark stadium.

    As to your sixth point, I am surprised that you would take offense at this. I don’t mean it maliciously I just think it’s a style of leadership I’ve noticed in our leaders. I’ve heard pretty explicitly that this is not an issue for the general public. I listened to one of the mayor’s staff say pretty much the same thing last week. Ballpark proponents have told me that this is an issue where “the public” isn’t ready to make the best choice for the city so they shouldn’t be given the chance. Also, why would Jones have been so secretive if he had wanted public input? I’d be interested to hear your perspective on this.

    Your tenth point is confusing also. All of the projects you just mentioned support my thesis that Richmond is already in the process of becoming something incredible. Yes to VCU Arts, yes to Gateway Center. Those are buildings that will bring Richmond visitors and clients from all over the region. If I ever go to work at Buzzfeed I’ll make sure and get more creative with my tenth examples … for now, I’m just thankful that you made it all the way to the end!

    Also, I didn’t say anything about the ballpark not being on the river. I said it isn’t “timeless architecture and natural beauty.” I still pretty much feel that way.

    To your fourth point, a stadium is not a “slave trail museum.” So you are correct that a museum would add to daily life, but the ballpark will still sit empty next door. You’re assertion that “Richmond is a minor league city” is also a little depressing. Maybe this is just an area where we’ll have to respectfully disagree.

  4. Thanks for your reply Michael. So I may respond in order of your comments:

    As a former Atlanta resident, I get your point. Notice how Atlanta has incorporated venues developed for the Olympics into the fabric of it’s downtown, from new dorms for Georgia Tech to the Centennial Park public space. Atlanta Fulton County Stadium was originally conceived by an architect who though he could fit football and baseball in the same venue. When I attended games there the 50 yard line was so far away from the field, I could barely see the game. It never worked and is now gone.

    The Georgia Dome was a bond deal http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/falcons-stadium-cost-grows-to-12-billion/nbZ5K/ much like the proposed RVA Shockoe stadium. 5 years ago the markets were so bad, Highwoods and the city could not get enough financing to pull it off. Now with the letter of intent commitments by Kroger, Hilton and The Flying Squirrels, it may fly.

    No statistics on the Redskins training facility rentals. Rich Johnson, head of the group that made that deal http://www.yesrichmondva.com/about-us/EDA-Board-Directory toured me through the facility and explained that local kids may be able to use it as I described, including the locker rooms. I coach a 6th & 7th grade public school lacrosse team and we are looking into the availability. I’m thinking my kids would enjoy the experience. They don’t have lights and take control of the 2 fields in June for preparation. I’ll let you know if the rental cost is public minded, or not.

    My perspective, 20 years of regional noncooperation calls for leadership. Leadership must present a vision. Because the mayor did so exposes him to all the naysayers who want to be part of the process. I was there at the announcement and these folks wouldn’t let the mayor speak. Ask Altria, they stopped holding annual meetings in RVA because all the crazies would line up to accost shareholders entering the Bells Rd. facility. If you want to gripe, do it, as you have, in a public forum. City Council, lead by my friend Charles Samuels has done just that. Charlie Diradour, another friend who sponsored “Baseball on the Boulevard” is now supporting the mayor’s plan. I welcome public input but get tired of all those who voice strong opinions without a broad based perspective. These are the folks who’ve ground our legislature into gridlock in Washington. The vocal minority should not trump the interests of elected officials who are doing their best to represent those who elected them. Educated objections are welcome. Weak cries for “the public” are just those.

    The stadium is just a piece and your article singled it out. Leaders and the community want to revitalize downtown. You agree that is it happening slowly. Why throw water on this without suggesting a better alternate plan? Critics are a dime a dozen, visionaries have been subject to them since Jefferson and Alexander Graham Bell. How do you propose to recognize the atrocities of slavery without building a museum? Where will the money come from? The exact sites where a museum should be lie under 1-95/64. May we move forward?

    “Timeless architecture and natural beauty” is in the eye of the beholder. Mead Westvaco’s Headquarters is the most LEED Certified green building in the state. They are proud of that. Old City Hall couldn’t be recreated if Richmond had a $10,000,000 budget surplus. Architecture reflects the period. Opinions are for blogs.

    Richmond IS a minor league city. We will never be a major airport hub, we may never attract a major league sports team. If you take that as hurtful you are displaying your age and ignorance that RVA is collectively trying to be the best city in the world.

    • Fred,

      I’m not holding high aspirations for Richmond out of ignorance. There are cities much smaller than Richmond that are world-class because they are intensional about what they do and they preserve their civic identity. San Gimignano, Italy comes to mind, but there are countless other examples.

      We also have different opinions of what makes a good leader. I want someone who is concerned with the longevity of this city. It seems like Jones is concerned with the short-term economic return. My opinion is that long-term value will result in a strong economic return. I’ve seen this in cities all over the world.

      Also, you seem to agree with Jones that there is no place for citizen input in the planning process. Many ballpark proponents seem to value efficiency over democracy. With that attitude, we’ll definitely get something built, but I can guarantee it will not be the best possible outcome. At this point, it seems like many people would be happy with anything.

      P.S. I’ll put together some alternative plans for Shockoe, but you have to draw up some plans for how we can redevelop the space when the stadium has run its course.

  5. Michael,

    I’m with you. Sedona Arizona is a testament. I’d like to hear alternative suggestions here, in your public forum. I agree that change is overdue. To that end, I agree with Mayor Jones who has a limited time to act. Support needs to endure many constituencies. Why are you principally against our elected mayor?

    I’m a Board member of The Virginia Capital Trail Foundation. We’ve struggled through 4 governors but our trail will be completed by Summer 2015 http://virginiacapitaltrail.org. Many have argued the trail only facilitates crime. I am charged to counter those objections. Our Board will bring awareness to the trail’s benefits and encourage all visitors and residents to embrace it. Try a day in my shoes. City Council has opened the door for public input. I encourage all of your readers to voice their opinions to their respective councilpersons NOW. If they don’t speak NOW, they convey their confidence in elected officials. The stadium is projected to open in May 2015.

    The Shockoe stadium is far from reality. The question is: “Do you want to kill it?’ or “Do you want to embrace progress?”. Let your readers know where an informed participant stands. Make a decision and stand for your city.

    -Fred

    • Your final question kills me … this ballpark plan is not synonymous with progress. I have already emailed my councilwoman and it’s in her hands to decide. This whole “high stakes” scenario is the worst environment for making long-lasting decisions. I’m not “principally against our mayor.” I apologize if it seems that way. I am principally against the process that he has chosen to develop and announce his grand vision for Richmond.

      I greatly appreciate the work you have done on the Capital Trail. All I can say is “thank you.” That is a project that will serve the region for generations. I wonder, as someone so committed to biking and the great outdoors, how did you come to so strongly support this current ballpark plan?

  6. Fred’s “facts” are anything but. The stadium is not slated to open in May 2015. The Mayor aims to have it built in 2016 before he leaves office. Even if it sails through Council it is a pipe dream to think that will or can happen. The FEMA and USACE permitting alone will prevent that.

    And that begs the question; where is Fred getting this info that the 2015 Worlds plan to use the stadium for opening ceremonies? It won’t be anywhere close to done as noted. Even if it was, so that is one week of events there, so it is still a single-use location. And it is funny that he comes from Atlanta, where the R Braves ran off to play in a new stadium that cost way more than projected and has had a horrible economic impact, while the A Braves are also fleeing to the suburbs after Turner Field, built for the 1996 Olympics is now outdated 17 years later. Seems Fred is using arguments that violate his own claims.

    Michael, where do you get the 160 games total from? The squirrels play less than half that many home games and VCU certainly won’t make up the difference. The Diamond is empty for more often.

    • Thanks for catching that! You’re right. It’s 70 home games each year (just made the change). So that leaves us with 295 days out of the year that the stadium will be mostly empty. And I agree, the situation in Atlanta should be a warning to all of us. If Turner Field is “outdated” I don’t know what we can do to ensure longevity in this sort of project for Richmond.

  7. Not responding to someone who hides behind the screen name “Skeptic”. I am not a strong advocate for the stadium plan. I do think it meets some needs that Church Hill and the community wants; including a Kroger, creating a slave trail museum. Too many years of discussion with no plan cost us the Braves. If no plan comes forward it will cost us the Squirrels. It has an aggressive timetable that coincides with the lease the Squirrels signed. The Redskins training facility had an equally aggressive timetable and it was completed. I just made some points to argue ones I didn’t agree with. In hindsight, I should have kept quiet. There is a process to developments like these and you help your readers by telling them how they can become a part of it. It seems to me alternatives have been vetted. The Reynolds South Plant in Manchester, replacing the Diamond on the Boulevard, moving to agriculturally zoned land in one direction away from the city or another. For those who object to the Stadium plan as it is proposed, I’d like to know what they think is a better solution. Projecting what will happen 45 years from now is guessing. I’d like to have a clear picture of development in Richmond over the next 2-3 years.

    • Fred, I’m glad you did comment on my post. The plan is certainly worth our time. Of all your points, your last is the worst. You say this plan has vision, but all I see is short-sighted goals.

  8. Fred, I have my reasons for using a screen name and don’t need to validate that, but my facts remain just that; facts. So why not answer the questions I raised related to timelines and the 2015 use of the stadium. Bottom line is you have very bad info which calls into question your other claims. And while we are at it, why not comment on the Atlanta issues I raised. Don’t get hung up on screen names, focus on facts and defend your claims.

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