Monday, July 14, 2014

Should Shockoe Bottom Be Declared a No-Stadium-Zone?

Over the last 10 years I’ve penned many blog posts about where not to build a baseball stadium in Richmond. And, several articles I’ve written on the same topic have been published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, STYLE Weekly and In all of them I have opposed the concept of playing professional baseball in a stadium in Shockoe Bottom.

This time, I’ll skip the passion and the history to cut to the chase. Here’s the question a carefully worded referendum could settle:

Should Shockoe Bottom be declared a special historic area that is a “no-stadium zone”? 

Yes or no. This approach would not say where to build anew, or whether to renovate the Diamond. It would simply allow voters in all nine districts a chance to rule out the Bottom for sports stadiums and arenas.

Then, on November 4, if the voters actually choose not to set aside and protect an old neighborhood that many in Richmond have come to understand matters greatly to the nation's history, then so be it. However, most of the politicians in Richmond know perfectly well that if the voters get the opportunity on election day, the majority of them will say, “No!” to baseball in the Bottom.

Given his trouble with getting sufficient support for his so-called "revitalization" plan by City Council, if Mayor Dwight Jones and the Shockoe Stadium boosters thought they could get the endorsement of a majority of the voters, they would happily support a referendum. They might try to tell you there are all sorts of other reasons not to hold a referendum to help settle this 10-year-old debate, but don’t buy it.  

Since the baseball stadium debate began, 27 different people have served on City Council and the matter remains unsettled. Still, today I won’t speculate about why members of that body would oppose holding an advisory referendum that would allow democracy to settle the squabble and get them off the hook.

If you brush aside all the hidden agendas and gamesmanship, the solution could be as simple as yes or no. "Should Shockoe Bottom be declared a no-stadium-zone?"

Update for Background: 

This same strategy was discussed at a meeting of Referendum? Bring It On! members on Dec. 17, 2013, at Gallery 5. I called that meeting and seven others attended it. We talked for about an hour about various ways to go about stopping the new momentum toward building a stadium in Shockoe Bottom. Chiefly, we talked about a referendum.

This was also the approach to a referendum we discussed, when Paul Goldman called me on Mar. 3, 2014, to talk about joining forces to stop baseball in the Bottom. In our initial chat, he said he liked the idea. Liked it a lot. We talked a second time and agreed to invite others to a meeting to be held at the City Library on Mar. 8.

Meanwhile, on Mar. 6, Don Harrison interviewed me for his WRIR radio program, Open Source. We covered the baseball stadium issue and using a referendum as a tool to settle it. During the taping, to answer one of Don’s questions, I told him Goldman and I had talked briefly about my approach to wording the proposal and that we were in accord. The tape ran the next afternoon, a Friday. It’s on the record.

The next day at the library about 20 people showed up. Goldman told me he didn’t want to talk about the idea of allowing voters to say whether the Bottom should be declared a “No-Stadium-Zone.” Without much explanation he simply said, it wouldn’t work. I was surprised and disappointed, but since he was the expert I let it go. Goldman dominated the confab by telling lots of stories about his vast experience in politics ... if you know him, you know what I mean.

Two weeks later, at the third meeting, Goldman showed up with petition forms already printed up. That came as a surprise to some in the room. The forms had two proposals, and for the most part, the language barely resembled what the group had been leaning toward. Some of us left that meeting a bit puzzled, but determined to give it a try.

Without guessing, I can’t say what happened in the four days between my first talk with Goldman and the first meeting of the ad hoc group that subsequently decided to call itself the Citizens Referendum Group.

However, today I still think that a referendum giving voters in all nine of Richmond’s districts a chance to cordon off the Shockoe Bottom neighborhood, to protect it from a bizarrely inappropriate development that would bury aspects of Richmond's history, yet again, is the best way to resolve this longstanding debate.

While I know there are people in town who don’t particularly like this approach, for rather tangential reasons, I’ve yet to have it explained to me why -- from legal and strategic standpoints -- this wouldn’t work to finally resolve an issue that has bedeviled us for way too long. Setting aside land to serve specific purposes or be protected in specials ways, when it benefits the commonweal, is how the whole concepts of zoning laws and having public parks works.  

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