Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Baseball stadium meeting a fizzler

With news about a new local baseball team in the air, a presentation ostensibly about baseball was made at my old junior high school, Albert H. Hill, by Paul Kreckman of Highwoods Properties and Bryan Bostic of Richmond Baseball Club, the folks who want to build a new stadium in Shockoe Bottom.

Earlier tonight the two men who took turns sharing the microphone promised that after they delivered their spiels they would answer ALL questions from the audience.

So the audience of 65 to 75 people sat and listened politely. Then the questioning period began.

It wasn't long before some of the questioners seemed to express doubt of what they had heard from the speakers, which irritated Bostic right away. So only those who hadn't already put a question to the speakers were allowed to ask questions after that.

Three members of City Council were there: Charles R. Samuels (2nd District), Bruce W. Tyler (1st District), and E. Martin “Marty” Jewell (5th District). They had little or nothing to say.

The questions from the audience got progressively tougher, so the meeting was ended. All in all, it was a surprisingly weak presentation. It wasn't much about baseball. It was mostly about money and real estate.

The oddest thing about the evening was the way Kreckman threatened his listeners several times, with a smile and a mild tone, that either the ballpark gets approved for Shockoe Bottom, or Highwoods will walk away from the projects planned in both the Bottom and on the Boulevard.

More about this meeting will follow soon.

Update: Click here.


Anonymous said...

I was there and your review is about as slanted as it gets. Many of the questioners clearly had no idea what they were talking about but were angry and already clearly opposed to the project. One guy got up and wanted to ask about 5 questions in a row that he had obviously carefully scripted in his effort to play "gotcha." I thought Bostic and Kreckman did a good job handling a largely unruly and ill-informed mob. Good thing City Council and the Mayor's office are brighter, more thoughtful, and more rational than most of the folks in that crowd.

F.T. Rea said...


Well, if you don't like this "review," you'll like the longer piece I'm writing even less.

This was my first chance to hear the story straight from the horses' mouths. To be fair, I wanted to do that. And, I was surprised at how badly the presentation went over. In particular, I found Bostic to be unconvincing.

Maybe this crowd was tougher than what they faced in previous meetings.

creativeclass said...

I was present as well. The questions were tough, no doubt about it; but this was no mob, Anonymous. The questions were wide-ranging, and audience members tended to be skeptics - this is all good; no one should get a free pass, especially in these tough economic times.

The key question, which was never answered satisfactorily, was regarding the disposition of the ballpark if the bonds default sometime during their 30-year life (and recall, the Diamond is but 25 years old). Richmond taxpayers have been burned time and again with big civic projects which promised great things, so a healthy dose of skepticism is more than warranted here. According t the presenters, there was no conceivable alternative to a Shockoe Center ballpark, except for the empty lots that are there now. That raises a big red flag on the project for me.

Anonymous said...

creativeclass, that question WAS answered. The answer is that the bondholders would have recourse just like any mortgage holder. Think of it as a house. If you fail to pay, the bank can either repossess and sell your house, or they can renegotiate the note. Same for the ballpark. The bondholders can either repossess the ballpark, in which case they will own the ballpark, or they can renegotiate the payment term of the bonds. Either way no loss for the city because the city isn't paying for the ballpark in the first place. The city will be the "owner" of the park, but the city is essentially getting the park for free. Kreckman tried to explain this, but most of the crowd last night was pre-disposed to a view and heard only what they wanted to hear.

Stuart said...

If this is such a sure thing, why doesn't Bostic get a bank or corporation (like, ahem, Highwoods) to issue the bonds? What bank or corporation wouldn't want to own a free stadium?

Anonymous said...

Um, because banks and corporations can't?

creativeclass said...

Anonymous, I never said the question wasn't answered. I said it wasn't answered satisfactorily.

Stuart said...

Lol. Highwoods can bankroll $300 mil for the rest of the mall, but only taxpayers can guarantee the free $70 mil stadium? If minor league baseball stadium ownership were a profitable venture, private capital would be all over it.

Anonymous said...

CC, if that is what you understood the situation/answer to be, what was unsatisfactory about it? Can you explain?

And I agree that the developers should be asked tough questions. But I've been to a few of these now, and have seen other groups ask tough questions as well. The difference is they have asked those questions in a civil, well-informed, and orderly way. With a few exceptions, last night's group was largely uncivil, shouting over each other at times, they were emotional, and in many clear ways they were ill-informed about basics of the project that have been available to read about in many different forums for some time. I mean, one guy who claimed to be "undecided" tried to play the "please answer these questions with a yes or no only" game -- it would be funny if it weren't so sad about what it says about Richmond.

Anonymous said...

Stuart, the city is not guaranteeing anything. That has been said time and time again. The bonds are therefore riskier, and may not sell. If they don't sell, nothing moves forward and no dirt is moved. But the city has to be the legal vehicle for the sale of the bonds.

Stuart said...

Ah, but herein lies the rub: selling the bonds is the easy part, servicing the debt is where we risk our public money. The developers pitch this thing as "free" because they say the new tax we will levy on Bottom businesses will totally cover the debt obligation. BUT given a multitude of factors there IS a definite risk of not collecting enough tax money to cover the debt payments. And since we guaranteed the debt, we have to pay no matter what. So then we are stuck raising new taxes to pay our debt obligation.

Anonymous said...

Stuart, for the last time THE CITY IS NOT GUARANTEEING THE DEBT! If the new revenues aren't sufficient to pay off the debt, the recourse for the bondholders is to repossess the ballpark (which the city did NOT pay for), or renegotiate the term of the bonds. That is it! They have no recourse against the city. The risk is on the purchasers of the bonds.

F.T. Rea said...

Anonymous (assuming you're the same one each time, since that's what appears to be the case),

Your style of defending by attacking is reminiscent of some other comments I've read before at this blog and other blogs. Last night Bostic exhibited the same tactic, when asked about the RBI group he was part of in the past.

He claimed it was not a "fair question." But there was nothing unfair about it at all.

Bostic and Kreckman invited people in. They asked those who showed up to listen to a presentation and hold their questions. That's what happened, the crowd listened without interruption.

Bostic and Kreckman said they'd stand for questions -- all questions. One would assume they had to be prepared for a few questions coming from people undecided about their support of the project and from people opposed to it. Which is what they got, but couldn't handle smoothly. So, they ended the meeting.

Calling the crowd "a largely unruly and ill-informed mob," or "largely uncivil" only works if you're trying to convince someone who wasn't there.

To call the presentation poor salesmanship is an understatement.

Stuart said...

The consequence of bond holders "repossessing" property from the City would be our municipal credit rating would be destroyed. Not even big government can take a loan and not pay it back without facing severe consequences.

F.T. Rea said...


Your point is one I had hoped would have been explored last night. Had the questioning period gone on, maybe that would have happened.

I heard how the stadium would be "free" to Richmonders. Not only free, but without risk.

But I do wonder what will happen when/if the money doesn't come in, because the baseball team doesn't draw as well as Bostic says it will.

What if the baseball team goes belly-up? Lots of minor league teams have disappeared over the years.

1. Who will maintain the stadium then?

2. OK, the bondholders would seize the stadium if they don't get their money. Then what?

3. Would that affect Richmond's credit, because its authority issued the bonds?

4. Who would want to buy the stadium and for how much?

5. If people are spending money in Shockoe Bottom, at the new shops, restaurants, etc., wouldn't some of them have spent that same money in another part of town? If that's the case, then isn't Richmond going to lose some tax revenue, because it won't be able to use revenues from the Shockoe Center?

Those questions were on my mind last night, but I wasn't allowed to ask.

Anonymous said...

"Three members of City Council were there: Charles R. Samuels (2nd District), Bruce W. Tyler (1st District), and E. Martin “Marty” Jewell (5th District). They had little or nothing to say."

I don't trust these politicians. Citizens should at this point be getting more of an idea where they stand as our elected representatitives.

In addition, there are much more pressing topics to have public meetings about than this third rate development. Our leaders should be doing a better job of setting public priorities- our schools and transportation are much, much more important. Frankly, I find this whole thing sickening.

F.T. Rea said...

Anonymous (11:41),

Looks like we now have two anonymous participants in this discussion. Or else we've just seen an instant conversion.

However, I had hoped to hear from the council members and was disappointed when they stayed out of it, because I wanted to ask them questions, too.

In 2005 City Council voted to have a referendum over the baseball stadium project for Shockoe Bottom that was being touted then by RBI. Then the idea went away.

Well, I want to know why it went away. Isn't it still the best way to decide this matter once and for all?

I'd like to see a non-binding resolution on the ballot in November. Let the voters say where to build the baseball stadium: On the Boulevard, or in the Bottom.

Some who back Bostic and Kreckman say the voters are too stupid to understand this project. More strange salesmanship.

Anonymous said...

Dude, have of your comments are about the commenters, whether they are the same anonymous person or not, etc. Get over it and start focusing on the merits of people's points.

whinemedineme said...

"To call the presentation poor salesmanship is an understatement."

i concur.

"Dude, have of your comments"

spellcheck? or ignorance.....

Anonymous said...

whinemedineme, that's not your style. no spell check + no edit function = unchecked brain lapses.

Michael D said...

I will add two comments to this debate as I did attend the meeting.

First, they stopped before the questions did and that was unfair to the people who attended PERIOD!

The second point is that this stadium and this proposed body they want to create would be publicly owned. If it fails like the Broad Street CDA and the revenues do not come in what will prevent this new entity from coming to City Council like the Broad Street CDA and asking for the funds to cover the bonds???

Scott said...

Sample Shockoe Bottom Ballot for City of Richmond voters: