Monday, July 08, 2013

Richmond's baseball backstory

The Richmond Metropolitan Authority was created in 1966 by the General Assembly. Over the years since, on behalf of the City of Richmond, Chesterfield County and Henrico County, the RMA has built, owned and operated various facilities. They include roads, parking lots and The Diamond.

The RMA’s board consists of 11 members. Six of them are appointed by Richmond’s government. Chesterfield and Henrico each appoint two members. One member is appointed by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Thus, any time they choose to do so,  Richmond’s members can outvote all the other members on the board combined.

Which means, as long as that remains the case, no one should expect the counties will participate in financing and building a new baseball stadium in the city. It also means that the well-intentioned calling for a regional advisory referendum, as RT-D columnist Michael Paul Williams does here, is indulging in a fantasy. 

Although the baseball stadium issue has many facets to it, this reality tells the reader plenty about why regional cooperation to build a new baseball stadium has been impossible over the last decade. The various plans to build a stadium anywhere in the city have rushed into this vacuum.

The most notorious of those plans have been efforts to shoehorn a baseball stadium into Shockoe Bottom by connecting it with larger developments. Yet, those efforts, in 2005 and 2009, both fell apart when the details about financing for those projects were scrutinized. In the process of examining those far-flung projects, it also became apparent to any fair-minded observer that Richmond’s citizenry was not at all in favor of baseball in the Bottom.

If anything, that opposition has grown as other plans for Shockoe Bottom’s future have surfaced. With so much recent emphasis on commemorating the Civil War, the history of that neighborhood as a center for the slave trade has been emphasized to the point that many are now calling for a museum dedicated to telling that story to be established in Shockoe Bottom. 

Although a few boosters for baseball in the Bottom would like Richmonders to see such a museum concept as compatible with a baseball stadium next door, it’s hard to find much in the way of widespread support for such a stretch. The one thing that has been consistent about the plans for baseball in the Bottom has been that boosters for the plans to build a minor league baseball park there have been quite willing to say almost anything to try to put their schemes over.

Which has only made the schemes seem more shaky.

In 2013 it seems the vacuum is about to bring to the surface yet another plan to move baseball away from what has been its home on North Boulevard since 1954.

No matter what happens in the next four months Richmond and its surrounding counties aren’t likely to solve all the problems that are preventing regional cooperation on a host of issues -- the most important of which is the baseball stadium problem.

That will take more time … maybe forever. But on November 5, 2013 -- Election Day -- the voters in Richmond could finally have a say in this story. If an advisory referendum is put on the ballot, allowing voters to say “yes” or “no” to the idea of moving baseball away from its traditional neighborhood, something can be accomplished.

The results of the referendum will tell the politicians in Richmond what the voters want and don’t want.

Ordinarily, elected representatives don’t like to hold referendums. They usually feel that after all they’ve done to get elected, it’s their job to make decisions. But this time the politicians and activists should step aside and allow democracy to work its magic. After all, since this decade-long debate over where to play ball began 27 different people have served on Richmond’s City Council.

Quite simply, those 27 people have not gotten the job done and there’s no reason to expect the nine on Council today will change that. Still, on its July 6 editorial page, the Richmond Times-Dispatch's editorial staff put it simply:
“We prefer a stadium on the Boulevard, which has proved its popularity as a site for professional baseball. A sports district with a Squirrels ballpark, a Redskins training camp and a VCU practice complex would enhance the Boulevard’s status as a gateway.”
Tonight Richmond's City Council could surprise us and vote to allow the referendum. The public can speak on the topic at 6 p.m. 

Click here to see the page for the Referendum? Bring It On! Facebook group.

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