Mayor uses ‘fake news’ moniker for media reports on Coliseum project

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 11/29/2018, 6 a.m.
Is Richmond’s mayor adopting President Trump’s habit of labeling media reports he dislikes as “fake news”?

Is Richmond’s mayor adopting President Trump’s habit of labeling media reports he dislikes as “fake news”?

Mayor Levar M. Stoney used the Trumpian expression “fake news” to criticize Richmond media reports on the ambitious plan he has embraced to replace the Richmond Coliseum, according to several people who attended the mayor’s presentation on the plan to the Richmond Crusade for Voters just before Thanksgiving.

Asked about it, Jim Nolan, the mayor’s press secretary, stated that the “mayor made a joke, and everyone laughed.”

People in attendance said the mayor applied the label to news reports that the Coliseum proposal would “divert” or “siphon” tax dollars into a fund to repay over 30-year the money to build a new $220 million arena and construct other public elements instead of having all of the money flow into the general fund to pay for public education, public safety and other services.

As the mayor said at the Nov. 20 Crusade meeting and elsewhere, the Coliseum project is designed to produce additional revenue that would not exist if the city did not approve the Coliseum plan being advanced by a group led by Thomas F. Farrell II, Dominion Energy’s top executive.

However, as outlined, the mayor’s plan shows that the lion’s share of the taxes to be generated initially would go to pay debt on the project. Later in roughly year six of the project, the total amount of new taxes is expected to exceed the amount needed to pay off the debt and thus provide more revenue to the general fund.

In a Facebook post, Style Weekly reporter Jason Roop who attended the meeting disputed the “fake news” label, calling it “accurate and completely, intellectually honest to say that tax revenue in the 80-block area in downtown, during the 30-year period in question, would indeed go to the TIF rather than the general fund.”

According to the plan, about 80 blocks of Downtown between the James River, Interstate 95/64 and 1st and 10th streets would be in the TIF, or Tax Increment Financing District. That includes the 10-block area near City Hall, where the new coliseum as well as affiliated private developments such as a hotel and hundreds of new apartments are to be developed, according to the plan.

If approved, the plan states the TIF District would take any increase in real estate taxes above current levels in the 80 blocks and use that money first to pay off the cost of building the new coliseum, renovating the historic Blues Armory and improving infrastructure involving streets and utilities. Anything left over would come to the city.

That’s all right with the mayor, who noted that projections given to the city suggest that $1.7 billion in new revenue would be generated in taxes over 30 years if the project advances, compared with an estimated $480 million in increased revenue the properties in the proposed TIF District would generate over 30 years if the project did not happen.

However, the city is projected to gain only a small share of new revenue the TIF is projected to generate during the first 15 years of the project — about $13.5 million a year in new revenue. The city’s share is projected to zoom to $60 million annually in year 16 and then to $90 million annually in year 26.