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Further updates on the Shockoe Center proposal

December 14, 2008 11:35 am by

Paul Kreckman of Highwoods Properties held a presentation/Q&A session on the proposed Shockoe Center/Boulevard Gateway redevelopment last week with a group of local bloggers, including Save Richmond‘s Don Harrison, Ross Catrow from RVA News, Daniel Farrell, that guy from Tobacco Avenue, Aaron Kremer from RichmondBizSense.com, and myself.

Daniel recorded video from the some of the presentation (below) in which Mr.Kreckman provides some history of the project and speaks about the general goals, design, and issues of the project.

Past and Present

This is of course not the first time that a new baseball stadium has been proposed for Shockoe. Four years ago RBI and later Global attempted to develop a baseball stadium in the same area. When pressed for differences between that plan and the current proposal, it was said that the plan put forth by Global was not economically sound (in implied contrast to the current proposal)(see Finances below…) and that this development proposal has a much stronger local connection.

Having just come off the first round of presentations to community groups, the project is slated to go before City Council in March to execute a Letter of Intent on the Shockoe Center and Boulevard Gateway projects. Kreckman explained that the “highly compressed time period” is due to contraints placed on the process by the requirements for secrecy earlier on the process. An announcement about a team and the beginning of the ballpark design would also come in early spring 2009.

Looking over comments from previous discussion, it seems that concerns about the proposal fall into the following general categories, to which I attempted to get clarification:

  1. Flooding
  2. Finances
  3. Traffic
  4. Parking
  5. Noise/Light
  6. Impact on Historic Sites
  7. No Baseball Team

Flooding

We all know that Shockoe Bottom has historically had issues with flooding. Flooding concerns mean that all of that blank property are essentially undevelopable unless drastic measures are taken to reshape the area, and which necessitiate a project of this scale if the area is to be developed at all. The choices as presented appear to be either blocks of surface parking lots or some sort of large-scale development that leverages goverment funding to alleviate the flooding problems.

The ballpark is the centerpiece of the flood alleviation built into the proposal. As an open 4-acre greenspace, the park would help to catch and hold water. Futhermore, by building the surface of the park below grade, the effect of this would be intensified.

A Shockoe business owner present at the presentation said that, even in an area built on small independent businesses, that it would be impossible for a mom&pop to build in any of the blighted area now due to the costs associated with building in a flood plain. He went on to describe that area as “an economic black hole” for its negative effects on the rest of Shockoe.

By acting to alleviate the impact of flooding, the ballpark itself then makes it possible for the surrounding land to be developed. The existance of the ballpark redraws the 100-year floodmap and makes the other properties viable. Without the ballpark or a similar feature, the rest of the area will not be able to be developed.

Financing

In a shifting emphasis from before, the project is being described as “an economic development project that includes a ballpark”, rather than “a new ballpark”. On the flip-side of how the flooding issues are addressed, the development around the ballpark will greatly help to finance the cost of the ballpark itself. Specifically, the ballpark will be built using funds from a $60,000,000 bond, which itself whould be redeemed by money made from the development surrounding the ballpark.

According to the presentation give an a recent Church Hill Association meeting, the breakdown for the Shockoe development is $310 million private investment, $53 million public. The public money is described as “Mostly federal and state transit grants to GRTC; minimal City matching funds.”

I had to leave before I get much more detail about how the financing would work. Anybody know more detail about this?

Traffic

On game day, an extra 1,400-2,000 cars would be coming to the area. This compares favorably to the traffic that the area already handles during peak hours. For comparison, the intersection of 17th and Broad Streets handles over 2,000 cars duing rush hour.

Parking

There are currently 3,500 surface parking spots available in the area. To help with parking, the state has agreed to open their parking deck on Main Street. Also, the developer would like to build some “structured parking” north of Broad Street.

Noise/Light

The ballpark will be built below grade, and will be ringed by multi-story buildings. These design elements will work to mitigate the noise and light emmisions.

Newer technology lighting and audio systems are designed to contain the light and noise inside the park as well.

Impact on Historic Sites

The proposal impacts a number of as yet only minimally documented historic sites along the Richmond Slave Trail (Lumpkin’s Jail, Negro Burial Ground). The developer says that the proposal will be adjusted to preserve the archeological sites, and that by bringing more people to the area that this will only help get the important stories out to more people.

As far as I can tell, the Richmond City Council Slave Trail Commission has not yet made a statement regarding their take on this.

No Baseball Team

Mr.Kreckman said that while Richmond does not curently have a professional baseball team, getting a team would not be a problem. He stated that the situation is not as vague as “built it and they will come”, but was not able to go into any specifics.

A locally-owned team could be in Richmond, playing at the Diamond, for the 2010 season. After 2 probable money losing years at the old facility, the team would begin play in the new ballpark in 2012.


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