VCU cuts university-wide commencement ceremony in 2019

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 11/1/2018, 6 a.m.
Virginia Commonwealth University is the latest customer to be affected by a still largely undisclosed plan to replace the Richmond ...

Virginia Commonwealth University is the latest customer to be affected by a still largely undisclosed plan to replace the Richmond Coliseum.

VCU officials announced Tuesday that the university-wide spring graduation ceremony held in early May at the 13,000-seat Coliseum since 1972 is off for 2019.

Students and their families still can enjoy ceremonies that will be held for individual colleges, schools or departments, university officials said.

The university made the decision to cancel the university-wide ceremony after searching unsuccessfully for a replacement site, officials said.

As the Free Press previously reported, the Coliseum will close after Dec. 31 while awaiting a decision on its future. The contract with SMG-Johnson to operate the space also expires at that time.

VCU is just one of the regular users to be affected by the shutdown of the Richmond region’s largest event space.

The Richmond Raiders arena football team already has moved to Wheeling, W.Va., it has been announced.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have held conventions on five weekends each summer at the Coliseum for at least 20 years, moved its meetings this year to the nearby Greater Richmond Convention Center.

The religious denomination has not announced whether it will continue to use the Downtown convention center or move the services that draw thousands of people from Virginia, Maryland, Washington and North Carolina.

As previously reported, the city is in talks with a nonprofit, NH District, led by Dominion Energy’s top official, Thomas F. “Tom” Farrell II. The nonprofit is proposing to develop a $220 million, 17,000-seat replacement arena.

While the details remain under wraps, NH District is asking the city to give it public land in a 10-block area adjacent to the Coliseum and near City Hall. The plan calls for NH District to get other private developers to build 2,800 new apartments, a new hotel, four new office buildings and other projects on the land and to use 100 percent of the city taxes generated by the projected $1.2 billion new development to pay back the money borrowed to build the new arena.

Mayor Levar M. Stoney remains mum on whether the deal will move off the drawing board and head to City Council for consideration. The delay in moving the plan forward could involve concerns about the commitment the city might have to make to bail out the project if it fails or generates less tax income than projected.

At the same time, the Put Schools First campaign led by political strategist Paul Goldman plans to work the polls on Election Day to gather enough signatures from registered voters to put on a future ballot an initiative that would require 51 percent of city taxes generated in the Coliseum-area tax district the Farrell group wants to create go toward modernizing Richmond’s public schools.

The initiative also would largely bar further increases in the city meals tax, the sales tax on restaurant and other prepared meals.