Monday, March 03, 2014

Baseball-related congestion problem? Forget about it.

Regarding Richmond's baseball stadium kerfuffle, in the last couple of weeks there's been a lot of chatter about the bogus traffic study, or the lack of a traffic study. Self-styled experts have come out of the woodwork saying that without millions to change the roads in and out of Shockoe Bottom the congestion just before and after games at the new stadium would be a mess.

On the surface that makes sense. After all, the Flying Squirrels have been drawing 6,000-plus to games at the Diamond.

Well, I don’t doubt that City Hall is not being forthright about the potential for traffic and parking problems, as well as other things. But here’s another angle to consider:

Maybe Team Baseball in the Bottom isn’t so worried about traffic-related problems, because those on that team are privately expecting only 3,000 baseball fans will be attending the games at the new stadium. Or, if you listen to some disgruntled longtime fans in the suburbs, perhaps 2,000 would be a better guess. Hey, once the newness of the stadium wears off, if the Squirrels only average 1,500 fans for weeknight games, maybe the traffic problem won‘t be so bad.

There's hardly a guarantee the attendance for games will be as strong in a new location. In most business situations, location matters.

But since some of the well-heeled players who stand to cash in on building big in the Bottom and on the Boulevard will have already made their money by the time the umpire says "batter up," some of them may not care so much whether the Squirrels end up drawing large crowds in their new location.

Sarcasm about traffic trouble aside, if the opposition to baseball in the Bottom can’t coalesce to form a legal barricade to building Shockoe Stadium, the push for baseball in the Bottom, in all likelihood, is going to be successful. The traffic and parking problems will just have to sort themselves out.

OK, there are several excellent reasons to oppose putting a stadium in Shockoe Bottom. But if those opposed to it would rather argue about which reason is the best one that road paved with good intentions leads only to a dead end.

Unless some City Council members change their minds, the grumbling by baseball fans opposed to building a stadium in Shockoe Bottom will soon be just a quaint memory. Likewise, unless some Council members change their minds, those who want to protect Shockoe Bottom from a development that would do another injustice to its history will have to watch Jones’ published revitalization scheme go forth. The same goes for those who don’t want to see Richmond spend/risk any more money on professional sports facilities.

In my view, today it’s probably too late to depend strictly on a clever new PR campaign to cajole members of Council, to pry them away from supporting the so-called "revitalization" plan. The time for that sort of strategy was six months ago.

In Richmond citizens can bypass their government's say-so with a binding referendum. Don't believe me? Look it up.

Not an "advisory" referendum, as was discussed last summer, but a "binding" referendum. Binding is more difficult to make happen, but it can be done with a petition-signing campaign. Not an online petition, but on paper -- signatures in ink.

To end the push for moving baseball from the Boulevard to the Bottom, it will take much more than establishing another Facebook page or throwing up another cute web site. Forget about useless online petitions, too.

Sadly, because it would take a lot of work, pursuing the referendum option doesn’t seem to appeal to many of the well-meaning people who oppose baseball in the Bottom. The most visible of that scattered opposition seem happy to go on speculating about which members of Council might be secretly leaning their way.

They might as well be in a lifeboat. In the distance they can see land, but it would take a lot of rowing by cupped hands in the water to get there. Instead of pitching in, to get that vital job done, the group in the boat opts to yell at the shore, hoping someone will hear the noise and send them oars or maybe even a motor -- to make the trip easier.

It says here that members of Council who are already counting on big campaign donations and other favors from Team Baseball in the Bottom developers and their associates aren't listening. Worried about a baseball-related congestion problem a couple of years down the road?

Forget about it. There are worries to do with this brouhaha much more deserving of your immediate attention.

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