Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Baseball in Richmond moving to the back burner

Lately, when I hear somebody talking about building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom, I laugh. You see, I'm past the point of arguing that it's a terrible location and that too many of what were R-Braves fans -- the Little Leaguers in the uniforms, church groups, veterans in wheelchairs, parents with their children, etc. -- won't go to that neighborhood after dark, in sufficient numbers to make it work.

Now the reason not to build is more obvious and less debatable. No one in their right mind would prop up a zillion dollar development on anticipated revenues from shops around a baseball stadium. That concept isn't working in DeeCee and other cities that have hitched their wagons to that star.

Now, the stark reality is that with the economy sinking into whatever you want to call the no confidence/no credit time in which we find ourselves, just maintaining The City's deteriorating infrastructure is probably going to be difficult in the immediate future. Schools and streets and what's under the streets is likely to sop up most of what cash comes in next year.

So, the baseball issue in Richmond is moving to the back burner for a while. My guess is that cities all over the country are going to have to do the same thing.

The taxpayers aren't going to like seeing their dough going into such projects. With Citi Bank getting billions from the federal government, it isn't going over so well with some folks that substantial chunks of that money is apparently going toward the bank's sponsorship of the Rose Bowl Game on Jan. 1 and to pay for putting the bank's logo on the New York Mets new baseball stadium.

We'll see how that plays out. But I think Citi is going to suffer a hard hit, public relations-wise. As for the jokers in the government who are handing bailout cash to institutions like Citi Bank, well, perhaps we should save the hardest hits for them.

Meanwhile, in the suburbs of Atlanta there's trouble over baseball. It seems Gwinnett County is struggling with shortfalls, stemming in part from building its new stadium for the team that used to be called the "R-Braves. Click here to read "Gwinnett's Chickens Coming Home to Roost."

For an overview with many articles about baseball in Richmond, click here to view the links at Richmond Good Life's special section on the topic.

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Update: There's an informative post and an ongoing discussion on the baseball stadium issue at Church Hill People's News. Click here to see it.

32 comments:

FanGuy said...

I think your point about location is flawed for two reasons -- (1) You underestimate the number of people in Richmond who are not "Braves" fans and who in the past attended only 1 or 2 games a year, but who would gladly and eagerly attend games in a nice new ballpark located in the Bottom. Minor league ball is not about baseball, it's about entertainment. (2) I think you overestimate the number of "suburbanites" who will not come down to the Bottom. The Bottom isn't the dangerous place it once was, and certainly won't be with new development and thousands of people milling around for a game. If the hicks from the sticks are that afraid to come downtown, perhaps they should seek counseling. The Burbs are just as dangerous these days.

Tom said...

That is a fantastically negative and misinformed rendition of the project that ties baseball in Richmond to the fed bailout.Serious??

I was at the Church Hill meeting and learned a lot. You should learn more about the project before likening it to a trillion dollar giveaway and adding the typical Richmond can't do attitude.

KC said...

Comparing the bailout of Citi Bank to development in shockoe bottom is far fetched. Citi should not be sponsoring the new Mets stadium or the bowl games but what does that have to do with baseball in shockoe bottom? Yes, we are in a recession. That may be the only truth presented here. This article implies that tax payer money will go to the baseball stadium instead of infrastructure and schools. This is simply not the case. To write it off as nobody will come to the bottom is negative and short sighted. Maybe we can build it in Short Pump? I'm sure there is a farm or two left out there we can bulldoze. Richmond seems to support any development west.

Scott said...

I like the Diamond where it is. And, notably, so the surrounding neighborhoods.

Keep your eyes on the ball. NO MORE DOWNTOWN CORPORATE WELFARE!

Don't forget Salomonsky's real estate interests in this.

http://209.196.51.212/ME2/dirmod.asp?sid=9B6FFC446FF7486981EA3C0C3CCE4943&nm=Articles%2FNews&type=Publishing&mod=Publications%3A%3AArticle&mid=8F3A7027421841978F18BE895F87F791&tier=4&id=05B19084D2084AFF9788CB5B6CCF3369

While Dotts was working to block a new ballpark in Shockoe Bottom in 2004, H. Louis Salomonsky, a pre-eminent developer who went to prison for bribing a city councilwoman, warned her that "there are powerful forces out there, and they can destroy you."

This is a good thread to follow:

http://www.richmondcitywatch.com/forum3/viewtopic.php?p=41320#p41320

F.T. Rea said...

Fan Guy, Tom, KC,

Perhaps your enthusiasm for the concept of putting a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom has not allowed you to see the trends that are developing.

There's going to be a backlash to spending public money on all sorts of things, including sports stadiums, like nobody's seen before.

Then watch and see hard-pressed sports fans' revulsion to the huge salaries pro athletes are making in a time of want -- not to mention the billions that greedy owners seem to feel entitled to making -- and maybe you'll get the picture.

Wretched excess is going of style fast.

Richmond is in the same boat as the rest of America. We're all at the beginning of a dramatic shift in the culture that will surely change the way voters are going to see the public financing/backing of such things as new baseball stadiums.

The far-fetched notion that a new ballpark with more bells and whistles will always pay for itself has fallen onto hard times.

Dig it: Richmond will not build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom. It's over.

Rabbit said...

Scott: I completely, wholeheartedly agree. I just wrote the following in an email to some concerned friends:

- no renovation of existing structure would exceed the cost of new development, so cheaper to stay on Boulevard
- Boulevard needs the central crowd-drawing power of sports much more than Shockoe
- Shockoe is already doing very well in its existing incarnation, really just needs more of the same types of investment
- need to prioritize investments, if we can't fund public school renovations and Downtown Master Plan, what the hell are we thinking?
- does anyone really trust the projections of revenue from this beast when the global economy is taking a nose dive?

Rabbit said...

Great points, F.T.

Dig it: Richmond will not build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom. It's over.

Courageous to stick your neck out - I hope you are right!

FanGuy said...

I wouldn't call it courageous to naysay and poo-poo development ideas in Richmond. That's par for the course in this town.

Couple of points:

F.T., what about all of the other development going on downtown? Do you think every project that has local government support (by way of tax credits, etc) should cease? We are, afterall, in a tight economy. We can't afford to be letting these developers build new buildings downtown on the cheap courtesy of the Richmond taxpayer, can we?

Rabbit, I really don't understand your point about Boulevard needing "central crowd drawing power" as you point out. With the ball park there now, crowds don't come and hang out after a game. That's because the Boulevard location is largely a suburban setting, not urban. There is nothing really within walking distance in terms of shops/restaurants, etc. Nothing would change in the Boulevard area unless you built an entirely new "urban" development around a new ballpark there (can you say Shortpump or Reston Town Center? --ugh). Why do that when you have the existing urban setting already in place in the Bottom?

And I have to disagree with you about the Bottom "doing very well." The merchants in the Bottom want a ballpark. That should tell you something. The Bottom will continue to tread water without a major influx of development.

Scott said...

FanBoy,

Actually, Richmond has a history of pushing forward downtown development DESPITE citizen protest- Dominion, Convention Center, Center Stage, to name a few examples. Most citizens thought this Shockoe stadium proposal had already been decided but it came back like a zombie (Salomonsky's powerful forces, no doubt).

"We can't afford to be letting these developers build new buildings downtown on the cheap courtesy of the Richmond taxpayer, can we?"

No, we can't. Schools, parks, mass transit, and neighborhoods need attention. NO MORE DOWNTOWN CORPORATE WELFARE!

F.T. Rea said...

My post didn't mention projects already underway. If your argument for baseball in The Bottom holds water, why invent strawmen?

Like some others who support building a stadium for a nameless minor league baseball franchise in Shockoe Bottom, you seem to be in love with the concept. Downtown baseball seems sexy.

The die-hard supporters of baseball in The Bottom have been good at talking blue-sky projections, but not so good at knocking down the sensible arguments against their proposal.

Instead, those of us who don't buy the rosy scenario are told we are sticks-in-the-mud. That we are holding back progress.

But I'll say the same thing now that I wrote in the first issue of SLANT in 1985, when I said a Downtown shopping mall financed by the public -- the now failed 6th St. Marketplace -- was a terrible idea: If the business model for the scheme is so sweet then why won't private interests raise the money AND take the risk?

The plan I've seen for the baseball stadium, with surrounding retail shops, etc., has Richmond's taxpayers backing the thing.

S. Preston said...

Fanguy,

Something on boulevard in walking distance of the stadium...like the huge movieland complex presently under development?

Paul said...


I laugh. You see, I'm past the point of arguing that it's a terrible location and that too many of what were R-Braves fans -- the Little Leaguers in the uniforms, church groups, veterans in wheelchairs, parents with their children, etc. -- won't go to that neighborhood after dark, in sufficient numbers to make it work.


I disagree FT. Many urban parks are very successful and draw fans from not just the suburbs, but out of town. The Bottom could be a great place for a park and if it could be largely financed privately it would be worth a few tax dollars to make the deal.

So bring on the little leaguers, their Moms and Dads, veterans, and church groups. They are exactly what we need. Let's make sure it's a safe, enjoyable experience. People want an interesting place to visit. Once they see what a great place this is, they'll come back; to visit the Poe Museum, Brown's Island, the Canal Walk, St. John's Church, the Slave Trail. Geez, make you own list, but we have to get them here first and sadly, many if not most will never come.

I don't know what it is going to take to get this city to believe in itself, but I do know if we do nothing, Richmond will continue to grow out and away from itself as it has done for the past 40 years.

FanGuy said...

S. Preston,

Last time I checked, not to many people would attend a baseball game and move back to back. It's an either or situation. So the fact those two things are within walking distances is kind of irrelevant. Besides, they are only in walking distance if you like dangerous walks over overpasses while inhaling diesel fumes from passing busses and trains.

The point is there aren't many other existing options around the Boulevard area, and few that need support compared to what is needed in the Bottom. For the Blvd area to become a true "entertainment destination" for the city you would have to largely start from scratch. The Bottom, on the other hand, largely has everything in place. You just need a major project and new tenants for existing structures.

Rabbit said...

While I am opposed to this project for several aforementioned reasons, I agree that A baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom might not be the worst thing to ever happen in Richmond. It is a gamble on many unknown factors. The biggest reason not to build is is that it may fail to attract revenue, a la Scott's reference to 6th Street Marketplace.

Let's forget the argument over whether or not the proposed stadium will generate a return on investment. Let's say we all love the idea; that still leaves the issues of:

transparency: why is only one proposal being entertained? Who chose Highwoods? Why sit on it for over a year, then choose to unveil it at the beginning of a global recession?

public/private: if it's such a great investment, why use our tax dollars?

priorities: my biggest pet peeve here. If public funds are going to be used, let's prioritize this where it belongs, at the bottom of a list full of broken promises regarding education, public safety, and health/welfare.

I think Preston's point was not just about the theater, but the presence of restaurants and other amenities that will inevitably follow. No need to put all our eggs in Shockoe Bottom's basket. I'm sure the business owners there would support any public investment in a large attraction near them; that doesn't make it a good investment for the taxpayers.

F.T. Rea said...

Paul H,

Well, I've been going to baseball games at Parker Field/The Diamond for over 50 years and have some idea of who else has been going to baseball games in this town. So, I'm saying that from what I know about them, and what I know about Shockoe Bottom, too many of Richmond's baseball fans will not go to a stadium there for the plan to make sense.

And, the notion that the young bar-hopping crowd can be counted on to make up the difference is absurd.

Over the 42 years the R-Braves were on the Boulevard they drew about 4,000 people per game. I'm guessing that maybe half of that number would have to be replaced because they would not go to a night game in Shockoe Bottom.

If I'm right that would mean every night you'd have to come up with 2,000 new baseball fans just to draw as well as the R-Braves did.

The R-Braves weren't making money at 4,000 per game. Who knows what appeal a Single A or Double A team might have?

FanGuy,

When you worry over "inhaling diesel fumes from passing busses [sic] and trains," are you talking about The Diamond's neighborhood or Shockoe Bottom?

FanGuy said...

Gee, I hope we continue to let the irrationally scared suburbanites run our town. Maybe they'll continue to build further and further from the city center so they won't have to be afraid of the bad boogeyman that roams the city streets after dark. That would be super. Richmond will really attract new businesses and residents that way. Gee golly.

You know, the area around Camden Yards was once extremely dirty and dangerous. I don't see them having a problem getting fans to games, despite the awful product the O's put on the field year in and year out.

But you are right. Let's just build a park in the suburbs and surround it with big box stores and plenty of space for the suburbanites to park their oversized SUVs. That would be swell.

BTW, FT, that's great that you have been going to RBraves games for so long. But I hardly think you've surveyed the masses that attend games. And the town has changed over the last 50 year, particularly over the last 10 years. It's become younger, hipper, and less "home grown." All positives in my book. I think your assumptions about the prospects of a Bottom ballpark are based on old and therefore unreliable data.

Paul H said...

And, the notion that the young bar-hopping crowd can be counted on to make up the difference is absurd.

I agree 100%. The bar hopping crowd has not saved the bottom so far. When we give people something to come downtown for, they do, i.e. 175,000 Folk Festive visitors, Barnum and Bailey circus crowds, Theatre IV productions that draw tons of families with little kids. Just think what could happen if we made it safer, more attractive and better lit.

F.T. Rea said...

FanGuy,

Don't know where you got the idea that I'm anti-urban. Most people that actually know me, or are at least familiar with my writing, would probably not agree with you. But you are right about me being old and way less-than-hip.

But baseball isn't about being young and hip. And, Richmond isn't Baltimore; Single A baseball isn't Major League baseball.

Maybe you don't know that minor league baseball has been shriveling for decades. It seems young fans would rather watch the Yankees or Red Sox game on TV than attend a minor league game.

So, investing heavily in the future of minor league baseball is a dicey proposition, at best.

Moreover, my original post wasn't about all the very good reasons not to build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom that existed last year. It was mostly about how the current very serious problems with the economy are going to affect plans in any city to build such things using public funds.

I'm saying that era is over. Meanwhile, Richmond, like many other cities, has been neglecting its schools and streets, etc. for a long time, while it focused on new development. With that in mind, talk of building a new baseball stadium anywhere in town is rather unrealistic.

FanGuy said...

FT, I didn't mean to imply that you weren't urban. Sorry if that came across wrong. I was merely commenting that some of the arguments against a ballpark in the Bottom seem to be based on a desire to cater to the SUV driving suburbanites who have an irrational fear of the city, that's all.

You are right about the fact that city funds need to go toward more important projects like schools, etc. I won't dispute that. This is a project that should be primarily a private project, aside from maybe giving up tax breaks like those given to other developments around town. To the extent public participation is required, the surrounding counties need to jump on board. It's about time they realize that the ultimate success of this region is not going to be driven by Henrico or Chesterfield, but by the name "Richmond" and by the total package of amenities and quality of life that the entire area can provide.

Regards,
FanGuy

KC said...

"Maybe you don't know that minor league baseball has been shriveling for decades. It seems young fans would rather watch the Yankees or Red Sox game on TV than attend a minor league game."

Tell that Louisville who averaged over 9000 a game in 2007.

http://downtownrichmond.blogspot.com/2008/01/louisville-bats-attendance.html#links

Or nearby Norfolk who had over 7200fans a game.

http://downtownrichmond.blogspot.com/2008/01/norfolk-tides-attendance.html#links

F.T. Rea said...

KC,

You are cherry-picking. I don't know how many successful/money-making minor league franchises there are today. But I don't doubt there are a few that are doing OK.

When I say minor league baseball has been "shriveling," I'm saying there are substantially fewer minor league teams in existence now than there used to be.

At one time, the farm systems for Major League Baseball franchises were vast. The Yankees used to have working agreements with three Triple A teams. Now they have one, etc.

Paul H said...

The point isn't whether the MLB teams make money. They are infrastructure for the Majors, but they do draw lots of people and I do think that having lot of people come downtown and spend their time and money would be a good thing.

Whether this deal is the right one, I don't know. It may not be the right time considering the economy, but there used to be something called the spirit of the city and people took pride in it. It's hard to quantify that. These days people seem to want to just piss on things.

http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20070905&content_id=299342&vkey=news_milb&fext=.jsp

http://www.oursportscentral.com/services/releases/?id=3656891

F.T. Rea said...

Paul,

Your comments are baffling. What in the world does "infrastructure for the majors" mean?

Major League Baseball teams, except for the Atlanta Braves, don't own their minor league farm teams. (The situation in Richmond was an anomaly.) So, when minor league franchises don't make money, do you really think their owners will ignore that?

One of the biggest problems with this whole baseball business is that a lot of the folks boostering for a Shockoe Bottom baseball stadium don't seem to know much about baseball!

At one of the mayoral forums, when I heard Mayor-elect Dwight Jones insisting that Richmond should go after a Major League team, instead of another minor league team, the only to do was laugh.

Many of the boosters of downtown baseball seem to know very little about the baseball business, itself.

FanGuy said...

"One of the biggest problems with this whole baseball business is that a lot of the folks boostering for a Shockoe Bottom baseball stadium don't seem to know much about baseball!"

So basically what you are saying is that minor league baseball won't work in Richmond and should not be pursued in any way, shape, or form in Richmond because it just won't be profitable. I see.

I think the problem with those sharing your view point is that you think it IS all about baseball. Minor league baseball isn't just about the baseball, it's about the overall entertainment package. The problem w/ the R Braves was two fold: (1) awful venue; and (2) awful game day experience. The parent organization clearly didn't care much about the "entertainment" aspect of minor league baseball, which is perhaps a result of the unique ownership structure you point out. Games in Norfolk, Durham, and Salem that I've been to were all a lot more fun because the clubs realized it was NOT all about baseball, it was about between-game entertainment, special promotions ("thirsty Thursdays" anyone?), and the like. The R Braves were awful at those aspects. Not to mention you had to wait forever to get food or drink anytime there were more than 500 people at the game.

F.T. Rea said...

FanGuy,

No, I'm not saying that ... and, I never have. Please stop trying to put words in my mouth. It is annoying.

Make you case, anonymously, if you like. But lumping me in with all your preconceived notions about who is against baseball in The Bottom, and why, isn't serving you very well.

What I am saying is that a lot of the push for baseball in The Bottom isn't about baseball, at all, it's about real estate. It's about people trying to USE baseball to make money on others things. And, some of them don't know much about how baseball works, as a game or as a business.

While some people go to baseball games for a total experience, no doubt, a lot more people pay their way in because they like to watch baseball games.

FanGuy said...

Ok, if you think Richmond can support a profitable team, then why are you making the point about minor league baseball contracting?

I have nothing to personally gain when it comes to building a ballpark in the Bottom, except that as a city and Fan resident, I would live in a city that has a better quality of life, is more attractive to outsiders and investors, and has a drastically improved entertainment area within walking distance of downtown.

And guess what, if we have baseball in the Bottom, you will still have your baseball to enjoy. In addition, thousands of others like me who go to games and hardly pay attention to the action on the field and often find ourselves asking "how did we score that run?" will have a great new source of entertainment in a great new venue.

Build it, and they will come.

(See, that's just as easy to say as: "Richmond will not build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom. It's over.")

F.T. Rea said...

FanGuy,

Well, I mentioned that minor league baseball is not doing the business it used to because it's true. I'm talking about reality. Not a pipe dream.

So, for minor league baseball to succeed in Richmond it would take an ideal situation -- the right owner, the right MLB partner and the right deal on a place to play.

Also, more reality: It will take the cooperation of Henrico's and Chesterfield's governments to build a stadium using tax money to back it, which the Shockoe Bottom deal does. They would have to kick in. That's exactly how The Diamond was built.

And, both counties have made it pretty clear they will not participate in a Shockoe Bottom deal.

You can scoff at the suburbs all you like. But in this case, unless you can convince the surrounding counties to change their positions, no stadium will be built anywhere in Richmond unless it can be done entirely with private capital.

Finally, as a baseball fan and a film buff, I did not like "Field Of Dreams." It was silly.

Paul said...

FT,

You maybe right and the numbers will never work, but I think Fan Guy's got it right.


I have nothing to personally gain when it comes to building a ballpark in the Bottom, except that as a city and Fan resident, I would live in a city that has a better quality of life, is more attractive to outsiders and investors, and has a drastically improved entertainment area within walking distance of downtown.

I hope it get's done. I think people would come and I think we'd be better off for it. I for one, don't scoff at the suburbs, I just feel sorry them. Within another generation, there won't be anybody left who remembers first hand what a vibrant community this used to be, in spite of itself.

Scott said...

I have said it before, and I will say it again- I think the Diamond's best days have yet to come. I am lookingforward to the day I can take a street car from my neighborhood, ride to the Boulevard, and enjoy a 'Thirsty Thursday' at a refurbished, solar paneled Diamond

S. Preston said...

It seems convenient for someone living in the Fan to support a stadium in the bottom. Why don't you ask the people who live in and around the area, and even those who live in Church Hill what they think of it? I live in Manchester and work in Church Hill. I haven't heard much support for the idea.

I have no sympathy for the hyperbolic fears harbored by suburbanites towards urban areas. I know this may sound strange, but I LIKE the bottom. It could use positive development, but not a replacement, which is practically what a stadium would be.

creativeclass said...

This is a discussion that could potentially continue forever. On the one hand, baseball realists note that proposing an expensive taxpayer-subsidized stadium in a controversial location seemed like an extravagence when times were good, and is insanity during a financial crisis. On the other hand, baseball dreamers say that it's not about economics or finance, it's about quality of life, it's about civic pride. Hey, Richmond could be a major league city, if we would only believe!!

The fact is, Richmond has a woeful record of funding grand projects that can never seem to achieve an ROI. If a Shockoe stadium is a superior idea, private money will seek it out. But five years of glossy brochures and empty hype have not sold the idea to a skeptical public.

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