City center vision

NH Foundation looks to new coliseum to spur major redevelopment in Downtown

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 7/21/2018, 10:21 a.m.
How do you build a $220 million coliseum for Richmond without putting up any money?
View of the proposed coliseum project area looking northeast from 5th and Broad streets. At left is the Greater Richmond Convention Center, while the tallest building at right is Richmond City Hall. A new coliseum is at top left. Existing buildings are white, proposed buildings have dark shading. NH Foundation

While Mayor Stoney has hinted that he still could reject the NH plan if it does not meet his expectations, he is fully committed to advancing the NH project as his legacy project. He views the project as a potential generator of new taxes the city can pump into schools and other city needs.

When the mayor issued a request for proposals during the winter, it essentially was aligned with the NH proposal, almost ensuring that NH would be the only group to respond. By then, NH had been working on the plan for more than a year.

The project is considered too tempting for the politically ambitious young mayor to ignore. The group believes it could generate 9,000 permanent new jobs and create a vibrant small town on the land the Navy Hill community once occupied before it was destroyed by the construction of the city’s interstate highways. The foundation adopted the Navy Hill name in recognition of that community, but is using the initials, NH, to avoid contention or objection.

Among the details that have received less attention is the actual cost the city might face. NH, for example, wants the city to pay for bringing up to street grade sunken sections of East Clay and East Leigh streets and to restore Clay as a through street. That could cost the city up to $20 million and use a big chunk of state grants the city is seeking for other road projects.

City Hall also might have to replace the Richmond Social Services building at 9th and Marshall streets to provide NH room to install a GRTC bus transit center and other apartments. That could cost the city $15 million to $20 million.

To keep bond interest rates down, the city would have to issue revenue bonds that would be repaid from the taxes generated by the NH project. The city would be on the hook if the promised tax revenue failed to materialize.

Also, to keep the interest rates on the bonds down, NH wants the city to divert the estimated $5 million in estimated real estate taxes from the two new office buildings that Dominion Energy is building on Cary Street to use to back the bonds. One of the buildings is underway and the other is in the planning stage. The money — potentially more than $150 million over 30 years —would not be spent, but would provide extra reassurance to bond buyers. The city would get the money once the bonds were paid. The taxes being used to pay the coliseum’s debt also would go to the general fund after the coliseum debt was paid.

Among the most intriguing elements of the NH plan are the proposals to build new apartment buildings on the Leigh Street side of a new coliseum and also to wrap new apartments around the parking decks at the coliseum and at the Richmond Marriott Hotel.

Another intriguing element is a proposal to gut the old Blues Armory and install a small market on the first floor on a par with those in Baltimore, a jazz club on the second floor and to turn the third floor into a ballroom and event space for the new hotel.