Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Stadium referendum proposed

Where should a new Richmond minor league baseball team play its home games?

Well, there might be any number of good places, but the argument among locals seems to have cooked down to two locations -- on the Boulevard, near where The Diamond is now, or in Shockoe Bottom.

Presentations have been made. It seems a new Double A team is on its way here next season. But the argument over where to play ball is far from settled. Studies have been made, but they don't agree, either.

Nobody seems much interested in where the R-Braves regular fans would like to see the new stadium built, which seems to me to be an oversight. But since public money will surely be involved in some way, no matter where the stadium ends up, maybe the most important people in this situation have been overlooked, all along.

Why not ask the voters?

Are the backers for Baseball in The Bottom ready for a referendum? Plainly, I am for keeping baseball on the Boulevard, and I think a referendum's results would overwhelmingly support my position.

If the question is put on the ballot in November, as a non-binding expression of the voters' sentiment, I think Richmond's voters would come out against the Shockoe Bottom development for several good reasons.

What's wrong with asking the voters?

*

Update: It seems this post's proposal has kicked up some dust. A more thorough explanation of my referendum proposal is here, at the Fan District Hub.

52 comments:

FanGuy said...

Yes, we should vote on every major economic proposal that's brought to the city! What a great way to run a town! That should really encourage development and investment by outside entities! Gee, golly, swell!

Baseball on the Boulevard is DEAD. The only way baseball comes back to the Richmond area is if it can be a vehicle for additional development. The Boulevard site does not provide that, as evidenced by (1) the fact every proposal submitted to the city chose the Bottom over the Boulevard, and (2) the fact that in the 50 years that baseball resided on the Boulevard, the area failed to develop to its best use.

Baseball will either be in the Bottom, or likely out in the sticks. But the Boulevard option is dead and gone.

F.T. Rea said...

FanGuy, most economic developments don't need the voters' direct support. This one, which has stirred much more debate than most such projects, does.

I'm not afraid of a referendum. If the voters say I'm wrong, then I'll let it go.

How about you?

FanGuy said...

So, you are the arbiter of what does and does not need voters' direct support? LOL. Why don't you trust your duly elected city council members? They are the ones who are going to study the project and be privy to a lot more information than Joe Citizen. They are paid to study and be educated on these issues. Joe Citizen is not, and without that incentive, rest assured that Joe Citizen, on average, will not educate himself on it. I presume that is why you favor a vote in this circumstance, because the nature of the issue and the complicated nature of the financing makes it easy for "your team" to mislead and misinform people, and when all else fails, shout "6th Street Marketplace" until you are blue in the face.

We don't live in a small village in Vermont. We elect officials to make tough decisions.

Scott said...

FanGuy is sounding a little blue in the face himself.

I am not afraid of democracy or a citizens' referendum.

I am afraid of letting some of our elected officials making this expensive decision on their own. City Council is still going by its "Leave No Developer Behind Act", as we have seen with recent votes about improper developments in Carver and Church Hill. I will say it- I don't trust them to keep the citizens' interests at heart.

FanGuy said...

What you really mean Scott is you don't trust them to keep YOUR interests at heart.

Scott said...

As a citizen, yes. I don't want to waste huge amounts of taxpayer money on another boondoggle. Not to mention the other costs- opportunity, environmental, etc.

Other than that, I have nothing to gain or lose by this stupid proposal- except time trying to counter your blather.

FanGuy said...

Scott, you diminish your position and that of the organization you hold dear with your constantly acerbic and dismissive tone.

As a citizen, I want my city council looking for ways to improve the city and spend tax dollars in a worthwhile manner. This proposal deserves the attention it is getting in that regard.

F.T. Rea said...

FanGuy, the significant thing here isn't your masked poseur debating style vs. a well-known activist. You can't win because you are merely an invention with an obvious agenda. Scott is a real person.

Here's what I get from your comments: you aren't so comfortable with the idea of letting the voters weigh in on where to play baseball.

Why am I not surprised?

Still, that telling admission shows me you have grasped 2009's reality more than anything I've read from you before.

Paul H said...

F.T.

I am a real person and a not so self obsessed activist. I can't say I have much confidence in democracy by referendum. If I did, I'd moved to California. It's worked out pretty well for them.

Fanguy gets his dander worked up and sometimes works against his best interest, but then sometimes so do I. Passion and reason can be pals. Sometimes one gets in the way of the other, but sometimes it takes passion to get something done. In this town, that ain't easy.

Paul Hammond

F.T. Rea said...

Paul H, thanks for sharing your view of ... your own views.

Paul H said...

Your welcome ... I think. Oh and you can call me Paul. No one calls me Paul H ... except you.

Scott said...

Paul or Paul H? What are you self-obsessed or something?

You and FanGuy deserve each other.

FanGuy said...

Blah blah blah. In cyberspace, Scott is just as anonymous as I am. I don't know Scott, but I can easily identify his posts because he uses the same name every time. Same goes for me. I don't care how much of a "well known activist" Scott is. It doesn't make his opinions or argument any more or less valuable to me. I judge him on the words he uses online, nothing more.

FT, welcome to 2009.

Scott said...

I judge people mostly by the ideas they espouse.

And this proposed Shockoe Stadium idea is pretty bad.

F.T. Rea said...

The notion that ideas should be judged on their own merits is fine. However, nothing in nature exists without context.

What one says matters. So does how one says it, and when its said. In a discussion, who says it matters, too.

It always has, because in the real world credibility and accountability usually count more than bluster.

Paul H said...

Scott,

You've mastered the art of judging people for just disagreeing with you, something F.T. would never do. Try using CAPS next time. It's more effective.

Paul

Scott said...

Of course, I disagree with that, Paul 'H'.

I have plenty of friends, neighbors, and family who I judge to be fine folks despite some major political/philosophical/personal disagreements.

By the way, I read your recent blog post on 'Lost City'. Sounds like you are getting pretty blue in the face also.

Scott said...

Again, I find this "context" distracting from what I hoped would be an illuminating debate on a possible referendum for the proposed Shockoe stadium...the lines have been clearly drawn at the moment between pro-referendum (F.T. and myself) and anti-referendum ('FanGuy' and Paul).

Hey, I will even throw the anti's a bone- a referendum could be costly for the City Registrar to handle. Maybe even more than the recent $100,000 fee for the 'independent' study.

Paul H said...

"I judge people mostly by the ideas they espouse."

I must have gotten the wrong impression somehow.

" you are getting pretty blue in the face"

???

It's my blog and I guess I can get as blue in the face as I want, but if you'd like to discuss it, comments are open there.

Jason Kenney said...

I wonder if any new stadium will be covered in as much astroturf as the online support for the Bottom plan is.

That said, when you're asking the public to put so much money into a project that has absolutely no guaranteed return on investment and in the face of the city's already abysmal play concerning the Hole In The Ground, this absolutely should be put forward to the public via referendum.

The people FanGuy and the developers that hired him fear are the very same people they hope will fund and ultimately patron the park and its subsequent development. Don't burn them now.

FanGuy said...

Jason you better have some evidence before you start throwing those accusations around. I am in no way affiliated w/ the developers or any group, individual, or company working for the developers.

I have no vested interest in this project other than as a resident, homeowner, and taxpayer in the city of Richmond. I just enjoy combatting the misinformation and outright lies that the opposition folks like yourself, Scott, and FT have put forward. Attitudes like yours are holding this city back, and are a large reason this town gets passed over for investment by outsiders time and time again -- which is one reason the city doesn't grow, the tax base doesn't grow, and our schools don't improve. The sooner you realize that a rising tide lifts all boats, the better off this town will be. But if you and your opposition teammates want to continue to insist on idiotic ideas like expensive but meaningless referenda like FT has suggested here for every controversial proposal brought to this town, one thing is certain -- this town will continue to miss out on opportunities that will go to other cities (like Charlotte), companies will locate elsewhere, and Richmond will continue to wallow in its "historic" but underachieving mediocrity.

Jason Kenney said...

FanGuy - Because, clearly, Richmond CenterStage has been a BOON for the city, right?

As FT pointed out a while back, Richmond has three shining examples of privately funded enterprises that look to do quite well in and for this city:

- The National
- Byrd Theater
- Movieland

All three were free to the taxpayers. All three add to this city and help bring that tide up.

If Baseball In The Bottom is such a GREAT and PROFITABLE idea, why are the developers so dependent upon MY money to pay for it?

FanGuy said...

Jason, they aren't. They need $8 million for infrastructure improvements in the Bottom (roads, sewers, etc). That's it. The city isn't on the hook for another dime.

Virtually every major project gets govt funds in one form another, whether it's tax credits or infrastructure. The reason is that it's in the city's interest to attract such development and increase it's tax base.

F.T. Rea said...

FanGuy, you say, "you better have some evidence before you start throwing those accusations around."

Well, I say back to you -- please tell us why anyone "better have some evidence."

They better, or you'll swell up with righteous indignation and hurl more insults at them? You'll call them liars, or anti-urban?

They better ... or what?

Support for building a stadium in The Bottom is hardly snowballing, six months after the economic meltdown began to dominate the news. If you thought your side could win a referendum, my guess is you'd be all for it.

Let's get real: You're not the least bit worried about what a referendum would cost Richmond's taxpayers. No, your concern is that such a referendum would reveal how little public support exists for your master's real estate deal.

creativeclass said...

This $8 million City contribution for infrastructure has been repeated so often, it's taken as gospel. It's merely a Highwoods estimate. Some City employees who are familiar with the proposal think that the real amount could easily be three times that figure. This is why City taxpayers want transparency in the process. A little democracy in the form of a referendum wouldn't hurt, either.

FanGuy said...

Of course I don't want the average Joe voting on this. I think that has been plainly obvious from my first post in this thread. Hell, you, Scott, Jason, etc have shown that YOU don't understand the financing (either that or you are outright lying everytime you post misleading information about the project), and you are supposedly paying attention. Why would I want the masses deciding the fate of my city on an issue they haven't educated themselves about? Only an idiot would support uninformed or ill-informed democracy. I support informed democracy. But I don't support putting every major project to a vote. That's why we elect city council and the mayor. This project is no exception, regardless of how much YOU care about it.

And while we are hurling around unsubstantiated allegations, how much are you getting paid to oppose this plan by posting repeatedly on your many blogs?

FanGuy said...

Creativeclass, care to cite something to support this little nugget? (And I don't mean Style). Who are these employees? What are their positions?


"Some City employees who are familiar with the proposal think that the real amount could easily be three times that figure."

creativeclass said...

Haha. A better question to ask would be - What specific improvements are covered by the $8 million, and what is the contingency plan if the costs should be greater than that?

And while we're at it, here's another question: Leaving the ballpark question aside, can Richmond absorb the additional retail, office, and residential, given that the country is in a serious recession and several large developments have opened/will open in the Richmond area in 2008-09?

FanGuy said...

Good questions indeed, both of which should be asked and examined by City Council, the Mayor, and Davenport. But questions that cannot be answered by Joe Sixpack.

I just want the project to have a fair shake. If it is as advertised by the developers and the region will support it, then it is a golden opportunity for Richmond. I don't like boondoggles any more than you, FT, or Scott, but unlike at least Scott and FT, I am willing to give the project a hard look and a fair shake because the idea has tremendous upside.

If their numbers don't add up, I agree, it shouldn't go forward. But the rantings and opposition of a few folks and Style Weekly are premature at best, and outright irresponsible at worst.

Scott said...

This is the same b.s. we heard with Center Stage and other City boondoggles.

The numbers don't add up and the costs are real.

Phil said...

While we are at it, why don't we put the City budget to a referendum? And the Capital Improvement budget too?

Take for example the Downtown Plan. Citizens had their input, elected officals vote it up or down (and can also amend as needed). I see the same thing here. The plan has changed since October and is still being vetted.

And as for idea, FT, you forgot a third option for your referendum.

Add Short Pump to the list because if this thing fails, that's where this will end up. Your Boulevard option will come in dead last because the owners won't go to a stadium they know won't turn a profit. Then you can go see the Short Pump Buckets.

Jason said...

I'm not fully committed to either side of this, but most of the discussion (or jab-trading) on the various blogs and boards is really not helping me make up my mind. What I'd love to see is a public forum with someone other than just the developers. I'm not totally comfortable with the firms that recommended the Bottom in the past doing the assessment on this plan, even if it is technically a new proposal. Let's get some sports economists, officials from cities that have done similar things, etc. and let the citizens and officials come and hear an informed discussion. Why does it not occur to anyone to do something like this (especially our leaders)?

F.T. Rea said...

Jason, that all sounds good to me. It could be part of what process leads up to voters having their say in November.

I actually trust the voters to make good decisions when they are well-informed. I'm not afraid of too much democracy.

After all the back and forth, I'm now convinced the only way to settle this thing in a way that will provide enough political cover for the politicians is to have a referendum.

FanGuy said...

Jason, what makes you think that the Mayor and City Council aren't talking to those people?

This is a new mayor and a new city council.

Audrey said...

FanGuy: I'd be happy to hear that mayor and council are talking to those people, but (call me skeptical) I'd rather not take it on faith. And if they are, I'd like for the citizens to be able to listen to them talking to the experts or whomever. So far all we have in terms of public info is: the developer's numbers, which we should not take as objective; and that an independent review will be done. But that independent review is still not as transparent as I would like. We need an open discussion with serious arguments and evidence, not just taking it on faith that our elected officials (or those they've hired) will do the best thing. They deserve some trust, but not too much.

FanGuy said...

The problem is that some people will never be convinced, Audrey. Davenport is a reputable firm with no incentive to do a bad or fraudulent job, especially when they are only getting paid $100,000. Their reputation is on the line too.

Jason said...

The possibility that not everyone will be convinced does not make an open discussion useless. And keep in mind that, however much this project may differ from previous ones that did not end well, the skepticism many Richmonders have toward their representatives and this sort of project is not unjustified -- and a lot of it goes back to a lack of transparency. There have been too many cases of numbers that were way off, or that have simply been kept from the public eye (CenterStage exemption from Freedom of Info requests, for example). The new mayor and (not entirely new) council need to practice transparency to earn trust; if it were just a matter of assuming they'll do what's best we wouldn't need open council meetings or press reports.

Jason Roop said...

Wow. What a thread. Do I dare dip my toes into this? I do have a question though based on one of these comments.

FanGuy, wherever someone stands on this issue, I'm wondering on what information, exactly, that you're basing this comment:

"They need $8 million for infrastructure improvements in the Bottom (roads, sewers, etc). That's it. The city isn't on the hook for another dime."

I have yet to hear either of these theories backed up by anyone. The city hasn't officially released how much infrastructure improvements will be, so how do you know it's $8 million?

Also, I have yet to hear anyone prove or guarantee that the city "isn't on the hook for another dime." If you can do that, and simply, I'd be thrilled to hear it. I just don't know where you get that idea.

FanGuy said...

Jason Roop, you hear only what you want to hear. The developers have said time and time again $8million, and they have even said that they built a buffer into that number. Now, if the final number is much higher and there is evidence to support that it will be, we should re-evaluate the proposal. No one has gone on record to say that it would be higher though.

As for being on the hook for another dime, that will all be reflected in the development agreement. If city officials agree to something that leaves the costs for the city open ended, then they should be held accountable. But the developers have indicated that they aren't asking for any more.

Scott said...

"If city officials agree to something that leaves the costs for the city open ended, then they should be held accountable."

Oh yeah, 'cause that has worked so well in the past. I don't give a damn what the developers have 'indicated'. This has scam written all over it.

Even Davenport can't find the retail demand needed for just that portion of Highwood's plan. There are other costs besides financial that should be considered also. This does not deserve any more of the City's money or attention.

FanGuy said...

Scott, based on that rationale, the city should never approve anything anymore because people like you will never trust them, even though it's a different mayor and different city council. That's a great way for the city to move forward (tic).

If the numbers don't add up, the city won't approve. And if they do, I'll be out there with you protesting to throw them out.

You can't let past fraud/waste/abuse prevent all future development.

F.T. Rea said...

After talking with the City Registrar yesterday, I learned that a November referendum, such as the one I have proposed, would cost the taxpayers almost nothing.

It could be done much like the 2003 referendum that asked voters whether they supported the City Charter change to allow for the direct election of the mayor.

If the proponents for baseball in Shockoe Bottom really have their ducks in a row, they should be capable of convincing the voters/taxpayers to support them.

After nearly a decade of back-and-forth discussion over where to play baseball in Richmond, what's wrong with asking the voters?

Scott said...

I guess the new computerized ballots have made a difference.

By all means go forward with the referendum.

In response to FanGuy, "You can't let past fraud/waste/abuse prevent all future development."
Great, then let's get the school buildings fixed NOW, before Center Stage and this stadium nonsense suck up whatever is left of the City budget.

Jason Roop said...

FanGuy, you didn't really answer my question. Again, just because a figure is in a proposal doesn't make it true.

The city, not Highwoods, will determine the cost for infrastructure improvements. Because that total has not been released, it is disingenuous of you to state, and I'm quoting you now:

"They need $8 million for infrastructure improvements in the Bottom (roads, sewers, etc). That's it. The city isn't on the hook for another dime."

In short, we don't know that the cost is $8 million. You should take care to state that as fact, because it's not.

In addition, you contradict yourself when you state as fact, "the city isn't on the hook for another dime," yet in the next post say, "As for being on the hook for another dime, that will all be reflected in the development agreement."

If that has yet to be reflected in the development agreement, then it's incorrect to say the city "isn't on the hook for another dime." We just don't know yet.

I understand that you are passionate about this project. I'm just clarifying what is fact versus opinion in your comments, that's all. Nothing personal.

Jason Roop said...

FanGuy, here are the numbers to which Scott refers:

Davenport (and partners) determined demand for the Bottom:
- 65,000 square feet of retail
- Gross sales of $26.5 million

In contrast, Highwoods projects:
- 192,000 square feet of retail
- Gross sales $90+ million

R. said...

i hear that there will be a discussion about this tonight at the bull and bear. open to the public. www.hyperichmond.com might be worth it to come box it out in person. just saying.

FanGuy said...

Jason R.,

LOL, you are a riot. You make that argument, yet your publication, Style, states that it WILL be higher, citing anonymous "city hall sources."

The bottom line is that, like I've said along, if the financing is like the developers say it is, i.e., that it will cost the city $8 million, and the development agreement is written in a way such that the city is not responsible for anything more, than it is a plan I support fully. Some of you, however, have concluded that that can't possibly be the case, because (1) all developers are crooked, and (2) city hall is crooked.

I prefer not to paint every developer, and every mayor, with the same brush, unlike you, Style, and many opponents of this project. I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Now IF it costs the city substantially more, OR if the city wants to sign a development agreement that is open ended, I've already said I won't support it. But there is NO EVIDENCE of that to this point.

Scott said...

The burden of proof for the relative merits of this project should not be with the opponents. But hey, how much can we blame FanGuy and Highwood for floating this scam and line of argument after so many (6th Street Marketplace, Broad Street CDA, Center Stage, etc.) have been allowed to go through previously by our City government, and let's be honest, our own citizens.

Lets hold our citizens and government more accountable by holding a referendum.

F.T. Rea said...

Scott,

Bulls-eye!

Jason Roop said...

FanGuy, true or false: The infrastructure costs will be $8 million. I dare you to answer in one word. If you stand by your previous posts, the answer is TRUE. However, that is not a fact, because the number has not been determined.

We did not state that the costs will be higher as a fact, but said they were likely to be higher based on our sources' initial estimates at City Hall. Our readers are free to judge the validity of that information based on what we could provide, seeing as our sources would speak only on condition of anonymity. But we did not state it as fact, as you did.

I do appreciate you amending your earlier statements to clarify your opinion. We've never said anyone involved in this development idea was crooked. We also do not paint every developer or mayor with the same brush. I'm not even sure what you mean by that, or what you're basing that on. We are not opponents of the project. We just believe in getting the complete truth out there so all the information is available to the public.

creativeclass said...

Jason Roop,

The answers to your questions will be key to determining whether the numbers "work". Also look at the tax revenue to be generated by retail sales - is it reasonable based on what could be expected from similar development?

FanGuy said...

Jason R.,

I said IF! The problem is that you all have assumed that the numbers are incorrect. What if the numbers come in at $6 million now that contractors are more anxious to get work? All along I have said that if the proposal is as the developers say it is, then we should go forward.

Why is that so hard for you to understand? I haven't said "let's do this no matter what." You see, my position is based on the knowledge that the city is going to take a look at the numbers, and that the developers have brought their proposal to the table in good faith. Your assumption is otherwise, apparently. Having a discussion w/ you on this is hopeless because you can't seem to grasp the fundamental premise of my position, which has never been "let's rubber stamp this and get going."