Stoney mov­ing for­ward on Rich­mond Coli­seum project

City is ne­go­ti­at­ing to re­de­velop down­town area, re­place arena

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARK ROBIN­SON

Rich­mond Mayor Le­var Stoney’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has briefed City Coun­cil mem­bers on his plans to move for­ward with a pro­posal to build a new arena and re­de­velop a valu­able swath of city-owned down­town real es­tate.

The city will en­ter into for­mal ne­go­ti­a­tions with NH District Corp., a group of cor­po­rate lead­ers formed last sum­mer that is led by Do­min­ion En­ergy CEO Thomas F. Far­rell II. In Fe­bru­ary, the en­tity sub­mit­ted the lone pitch in re­sponse to the city’s re­quest for pro­pos­als for the project.

“Though many ques­tions re­main and there are im­por­tant points to ne­go­ti­ate, based upon the re­sults of this re­view process, I be­lieve there is po­ten­tial in this pro­posal to pro­vide trans­for­ma­tional change in an un­der­uti­lized por­tion of down­town, with­out neg­a­tively im­pact­ing the city fi­nances or debt ca­pac­ity,” Stoney said in a news re­lease sent after the Rich­mond Times-Dis­patch pub­lished an ear­lier ver­sion of this story on­line.

“After brief­ing the mem­bers of City Coun­cil, I’ve in­structed staff to ne­go­ti­ate with NH District Corp. with the un­der­stand­ing that we will only take the next step

in this process if we de­ter­mine it is in the best in­ter­ests of the com­mu­nity,” Stoney said in the state­ment.

Stoney aims to for­mally in­tro­duce a pack­age of or­di­nances ad­vanc­ing the re­de­vel­op­ment in Septem­ber. The time­line and some de­tails of the pro­posal, which in­cludes cap­i­tal in­vest­ment in ex­cess of $1 bil­lion, were shared dur­ing con­fi­den­tial meet­ings the mayor’s ad­min­is­tra­tion called with coun­cil mem­bers this week, ac­cord­ing to four sources with knowl­edge of the meet­ings and pro­posal.

Far­rell’s group had ex­pressed in­ter­est in over­haul­ing the area be­fore Stoney an­nounced the re­quest for pro­pos­als, or RFP. That Far­rell’s group then sub­mit­ted the only re­sponse to the call for pro­pos­als raised ques­tions for some about the le­git­i­macy of the RFP process.

Jeff Kel­ley, a spokesman for NH District Corp., said in a state­ment that the group heard from more than 1,000 peo­ple through its web­site and a se­ries of events held prior to sub­mit­ting its pro­posal. The group in­vited feed­back from the public, Kel­ley said.

“We have much more lis­ten­ing to do, and we look for­ward to work­ing with the city to out­line de­tails of how the next steps of the RFP process will ad­vance,” Kel­ley said. “We com­mit to ad­di­tional public en­gage­ment to fur­ther re­fine the plan.”

The meet­ings with some coun­cil mem­bers in­cluded a pre­sen­ta­tion by the city’s ex­ter­nal fi­nan­cial ad­viser, Daven­port & Co. The ad­min­is­tra­tion em­pha­sized the de­tails of the fi­nal plan were still fluid, the sources said.

With the re­quest for pro­pos­als, Stoney is aim­ing to re­make a roughly 10block area of down­town bounded by North Fifth Street, East Leigh Street, North 10th Street and East Mar­shall Street. The area in­cludes about 21 acres of pub­licly owned prop­erty.

An­chor­ing the re­de­vel­op­ment would be a new 17,500-seat arena to re­place the ex­ist­ing Rich­mond Coli­seum, which Stoney has char­ac­ter­ized as a “de­cay­ing public as­set.” The city re­quest for pro­pos­als also calls for a 400-room ho­tel, a new trans­fer sta­tion for GRTC Tran­sit Sys­tem rid­ers, the preser­va­tion of the Blues Ar­mory build­ing, and the cre­ation of mixed-use, af­ford­able hous­ing.

How the re­de­vel­op­ment will be fi­nanced is still an open ques­tion.

When the re­quest for pro­pos­als was an­nounced, Stoney said the city would not is­sue any gen­eral obli­ga­tion bonds to fi­nance the de­vel­op­ment. How­ever, pro­pos­als that in­cor­po­rate tax-in­cre­ment fi­nanc­ing would be con­sid­ered “if needed,” he said at the time. The fi­nanc­ing mech­a­nism is still a part of dis­cus­sions, the sources said.

Tax-in­cre­ment fi­nanc­ing would ded­i­cate a por­tion of the ad­di­tional prop­erty tax rev­enue gen­er­ated by the re­de­vel­op­ment within the district to pay off bonds for the project, while gen­er­at­ing rev­enue that could be ap­plied to other pri­or­i­ties.

The meet­ings with coun­cil mem­bers come four months after the city re­ceived the pro­posal. The Stoney ad­min­is­tra­tion has put out lit­tle in­for­ma­tion about the project in the in­terim de­spite sev­eral re­quests.

To date, the city has not re­leased the pro­posal. Of­fi­cials have cited a dis­cre­tionary ex­emp­tion un­der the state’s open records law that al­lows a public body to with­hold in­for­ma­tion that it be­lieves would “ad­versely af­fect” its bar­gain­ing or ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion.

Since Fe­bru­ary, city staff mem­bers across sev­eral de­part­ments have re­viewed the pro­posal and re­quested more in­for­ma­tion from the bid­der. The city said in the spring that it ex­pected to con­clude its re­view and an­nounce a next step in the process by the end of June.

The city is poised to take on the Coli­seum re­de­vel­op­ment as the coun­cil works to tie up loose ends from two sig­nif­i­cantly smaller eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment deals — the Wash­ing­ton Redskins’ train­ing camp fa­cil­ity and Stone Brew­ing’s brew­ery and bistro — bro­kered un­der then-Mayor Dwight Jones.

Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Chris Hil­bert said he ex­pected the coun­cil to take its time re­view­ing and amend­ing what­ever plan the Stoney ad­min­is­tra­tion puts for­ward to re­place the Coli­seum.

“I don’t think we’re go­ing to have a take-it-or­leave-it pro­posal,” Hil­bert said. “I think those days are over.”

The city has not re­leased the plan. Of­fi­cials have cited a dis­cre­tionary ex­emp­tion un­der the state’s open records law that al­lows a body to with­hold in­for­ma­tion that it be­lieves would “ad­versely af­fect” its bar­gain­ing or ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tion.


Rich­mond Mayor Le­var Stoney wants to re­de­velop a 10-block area of down­town bounded by North Fifth, East Leigh, North 10th and East Mar­shall streets. The plan in­cludes a Rich­mond Coli­seum re­place­ment, a new ho­tel, a new GRTC trans­fer sta­tion and af­ford­able hous­ing.

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