January and September of 2014 Richmond witnessed the coalescence of a
significant resistance to the notion of building a baseball stadium in
Shockoe Bottom. In May the volume of the opposition chorus apparently
surprised Mayor Dwight Jones (pictured left). Now it seems unlikely
Jones’ so-called “revitalization” plan, as originally advertised, is
ever going fall into place.
However unpopular with the
voters the mayor’s plans for Shockoe Bottom and North Boulevard have
become, shifts in the thinking of some on City Council may animate
makeovers in 2015. What effect the rearranging of councilmanic chairs
have on the ballpark issue isn't known, yet. As we wait for that drama
unfold, it's worthwhile to organize the 2014 record of the brouhaha for
the sake of facilitating a clear perspective.
to stifle the mayor’s stadium-building scheme last year began gathering
over the winter. Although no single entity was coordinating it, by
early spring the escalating criticism of the Jones plan was pouring in
from several directions.
However, now it seems there
was one standout event that proved to be the tipping point. It appeared
out of the blue on Apr. 28. On that Monday morning a group of students from Richmond public schools appeared at City Hall with a purpose
. The majority of them were from Open High.
one called it a "flash mob," or a "walkout," the protest march had
obviously been prompted by a couple of telling Style Weekly articles ("Caving In"
and "Filling Holes"
published earlier the same month. The stories revealed dreadful
conditions in some local public schools; the students acted on their own
volition. They carried signs with messages for all to see. Some
messages decried dilapidated school buildings. Others protested the
Shockoe Stadium plan.
The next surprise came later that
same fateful day. Instead of dispatching a brief note to congratulate
the kids for their civic-minded moxie, and to say he was too busy to
meet with them, Hizzoner decided to smooth the students’ ruffled
feathers with his practiced mayoral patter. Well, in baseball parlance,
Jones "booted" his chance to make a play. His painfully awkward response
to the students' questions about the city's skewed spending priorities
was worse than inadequate.
Naturally, the local media were all over the story of a flummoxed mayor. The kids looked good on TV.
Mayor Jones rolled out his large-dollar plan to “revitalize” the city
on Nov. 11, 2013, he presented the building of a baseball stadium in the
Bottom as an essential component. He spoke of how it would create jobs,
enlarge the city's tax base and get a slavery-related museum built,
No doubt, 2014 began with the perceivable momentum
on the mayor's side. Jones’ Chief Administrative Officer and top
salesman, Byron Marshall, appeared more than up to the task of
ramrodding the taxpayer-backed project through Richmond’s nine-member
As the baseball-in-the-Bottom bandwagon
chugged through the first month of the 11th year of baseball stadium
debate in Richmond, dissent to the mayor’s plan couldn’t be heard over
establishment media-amplified boosterism. Venture Richmond’s ubiquitous
LovingRVA public relations campaign was pumping high-test fuel into the
That, while no person or organization
was speaking for the scattered opposition. Some wanted to protect
Shockoe Bottom from an outrageously inappropriate development. Some saw
another build-it-and-they-will-come boondoggle in the making. Others
stood against what they believed to be an impractical plan, a plan that
turned a blind eye on what baseball fans seemed to prefer.
Leading up to 2014, The Virginia Defender
published by Ana Edwards and Phil Wilayto, had been focused on the
issue for years. Owing to that effort and those of other activists, in
February the resistance to baseball-in-the-Bottom continued gathering.
STYLE Weekly stayed on the stadium beat with a series of news stories
and several Back Page OpEds
Social media’s role was snowballing. Facebook pages dedicated to opposing Shockoe Stadium included: Referendum? Bring It On!
; Save the Diamond
; Say No to a Stadium in Shockoe Bottom
; Shockoe Resistance
; A Stadium RVA Can Love!
. Outdoor billboard signs went up. Yard signs were posted. Activist Farid Alan Schintzius headed up the signage approach.
In March and April the Citizens Referendum Group
meetings at the City Library to discuss crafting a strategy to put a
baseball stadium referendum on the ballot. Although that ad hoc group’s
ambitious petition-signing campaign didn’t collect enough signatures to
force such a referendum, the connections the undertaking created could
come into play again. Many names and addresses of registered voters were
collected. (An archive of published notices and articles on this issue is here
Other petitions were circulated. Boycott strategies came also into play. Political gadfly Paul Goldman weighed in with an avalanche of opinion pieces
WTVR.com. Although his message meandered over the year, Goldman was
relentlessly hard-hitting with his many objections to pursuing the
mayor's Shockoe Stadium concept.
In the wake of the notoriety of the Oscar-winning movie, “12 Years a Slave,”
March 25 the Hollywood Reporter weighed in: “Where the jail that held
Solomon Northup once stood, a state-of-the-art baseball stadium may soon
rise. That’s if the mayor of Richmond, Va., has his way.”
On Apr. 29, Preservation Virginia announced its Most Endangered Sites List
2014, which included Shockoe Bottom. At this point three members of
City Council were on record as being opposed to the mayor’s plan. They
were: Parker Agelasto, Chris Hilbert and Reva Trammell.
first of May brought news of an alternative stadium proposal, one for
the Boulevard from a new developer. A week later Doug Wilder stuck his
thumb in Jones’ eye by announcing his intention to revive his
much-traveled slavery museum concept and locate it a couple of blocks
from where the mayor wanted to put a similar museum.
May 23, City Council members Charles Samuels and Jon Baliles put out a
joint press release announcing their decision to let the sputtering
Shockoe Stadium bandwagon pass them by. Joining with their three
colleagues already prepared to vote against the mayor‘s plan, a new
five-member majority was thus created. The bandwagon screeched to a
Four days later, Mayor Jones’ office announced his development plan for the Boulevard and the Bottom was being temporarily
from consideration. It was then anticipated the plan would be re-worked
and introduced at a Council meeting before the summer was over.
inside City Hall during June the stadium issue languished. In July
Trammell suggested a referendum might be the best way to go. Her fellow
Council members didn’t see it her way.
On August 3 a group of merry Richmonders paraded around The Diamond
mock the notion of demolishing it, only to build a replacement in the
Bottom. As the accordion music swelled -- playing "Take Me Out to the
Ballgame" -- some paraders may have wondered, once again, what the point
of the LovingRVA campaign had been in the first place.
Was it to persuade the public? Or perhaps certain members of City Council?
September, without much in the way of an explanation, Byron Marshall
resigned. In the absence of a freshened up presentation from the mayor's
office Council went on with other business.
If rumors are to be taken seriously, it now seems one member of last year's five-member-majority may flip this year. Time will tell
. Still, what the mayor and any potential flip-flopping politicians should take to heart is this plain truth:
opposition that swelled up in 2014 won’t be difficult to reanimate. It
hasn’t gone anywhere, even if some politicians and rainmakers twist all
the arms they can reach. After years of this issue flapping in the
breeze, most voters have their minds made up. More salesmanship isn't
going to change those minds much.
Moreover, last year’s coalescence of factions created something bigger than the sum of its parts. It’s something
isn't likely to ever stand aside for that old ballpark bandwagon. Nor
is it likely to forget flip-floppery. For 2015, one thing is a safe bet:
Dwight Jones wants no more face-to-face meetings with sign-carrying
students at City Hall.
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-- Photo of Dwight Jones from Richmond.com. Photo of parade by WRIC Channel 8.