Monday, August 06, 2012

No regional cooperation means no baseball stadium

Baseball in the Bottom is back in the news. The zombie of two failed campaigns to build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom walks again. No doubt, there will be much said about that zombie in coming months.

A commentary piece supporting the concept of building a downtown baseball stadium appeared in Sunday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Absent regional partners, it is time for the city to grab the reins and move the ballpark project forward on its own, in partnership with the business community and the Squirrels. Freed from the prerequisite that the stadium be on the Boulevard, the city should do what is in the best interests of the city, the region and the Squirrels. That means choosing a site that is downtown.
Click here to read the entire piece.

Meanwhile, just because people keep bragging about what a perfect economic driver baseball will be if you put it here, or there, doesn’t make any of it true.

Using minor league baseball to fix the perceived problems of a blighted neighborhood probably won’t work and saying it has worked that way in several other markets isn’t true. Comparing what has happened in minor league cities with Major League Baseball's history is a reach.

Even though some dreamers (who usually are not baseball fans) think having a downtown baseball stadium would be so cool, that’s just not a good enough reason to ask the city’s taxpayers to help with the financing of a far-flung development -- financing designed mostly to reduce the risk for a few land barons and developers.

Let’s face it, as long as the City of Richmond won’t allow Henrico County and Chesterfield County fair representation on the Richmond Metropolitan Authority's board, any talk about regional cooperation to build ANYTHING under its auspices is a waste of time.

As long as people keep chattering about building something that isn't really going to be built, the controversy always kicks up more dust to distract us voters from demanding that City Hall do more to fix the underlying problem -- lack of cooperation with the surrounding counties. The RMA’s board has 11 members. One is a state appointee. Six members represent Richmond. Two represent Chesterfield; two represent Henrico.

The sparsely populated counties went along with this configuration 50 years ago. Now times have changed and Richmond’s refusal to recognize reality and share power more evenly has caused the spirit of regional cooperation to seize up. Mayor Jones would like you to not notice this, so we get more distractions, instead of solutions.

Richmond's next baseball stadium should be built where it will best serve baseball fans, without imposing unduly on neighbors who could care less about baseball. So far, the Diamond's location on the Boulevard seems to work. It may not be the best possible location, if we could literally build its replacement wherever we like. But we can't do that; zombies notwithstanding, we must choose from what's available.

And, like it or not, a good number of the Flying Squirrels fans won't follow them to the Bottom. How will the ball club replace those lost fans? By moving across town can the Squirrels create new fans who will go to games regularly?

Maybe, but without enough baseball fans going to the 70-some home games the Squirrels play every season the team will leave Richmond, no matter what part of town a new stadium calls home.

Then the merchants nestled up to an empty stadium, those that had blithely hopped on the build-it-and-they-will-come baseball bandwagon, will have big problem and so will the chumps stuck with paying off all the money that was borrowed to build it.

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