Richmond Circuit Court clears way for ballot initiative on schools vs. Coliseum

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 10/18/2018, 6 a.m.
The Richmond Circuit Court this week cleared the way for political strategist Paul Goldman to launch a challenge to a ...

Paul Goldman

Paul Goldman

The Richmond Circuit Court this week cleared the way for political strategist Paul Goldman to launch a challenge to a brewing $1.2 billion proposal to replace the 47-year-old Richmond Coliseum.

While City Hall continues to work with a private group to wrap up the details of the Coliseum plan, Mr. Goldman announced Tuesday that the court has approved the language of his “Choosing Children over Costly Coliseums” ballot initiative, enabling him and a cadre of volunteers with his Put Schools First group to begin gathering signatures to put a City Charter change before city voters.

“This is the only legal way for RVA citizens to tell their leaders to put schools first,” ahead of a Coliseum development, said Mr. Goldman, who has been campaigning for years to get the city to modernize outdated and poorly maintained buildings most students attend.

Jim Nolan, spokesman for Mayor Levar M. Stoney who has expressed interest but has not yet publicly embraced the Coliseum proposal, responded Wednesday, “We have not seen nor are we familiar with the referendum proposal,” from Mr. Goldman.

Mr. Goldman’s ballot initiative to change the City Charter would strike at the financial underpinnings of the current outlines of the plan that Dominion Energy’s top executive, Thomas F. “Tom” Farrell II, is spearheading that calls for replacing the 1971 Coliseum with a modern $220 million, 17,500-seat arena on the same site.

To repay the money that would be borrowed to finance the cost of developing the arena, the Farrell proposal calls for private developers to build a convention hotel, offices, retail shops and 2,800 apartments in a 10-block area around the Downtown building.

The city, under the plan, would create a tax district in order to dedicate 100 percent of the taxes generated by those projects to repay over 30 years the $500 million in principal and interest that Mr. Goldman projects as the ultimate cost.

Mr. Goldman’s ballot initiative calls for changing the City Charter to require that up to 49 percent of any tax dollars generated in a tax district go to pay for modernizing schools.

“This is Plan B to save Richmond’s reputation,” Mr. Goldman stated in an email to the Free Press. “Putting a publicly financed, $500 million sports coliseum ahead of fixing decrepit, obsolete and intolerable school buildings for its 90 percent minority public school children would have been expected from RVA leaders in 1918, but is immoral, irresponsible and indefensible in 2018.”

The court’s approval of the language gives Mr. Goldman nine months to collect the nearly 14,000 signatures of registered voters needed to get his issue on the ballot.

If he and his team are able to collect those signatures, the court would then order an advisory referendum to allow voters to decide whether to send the proposed charter change to the General Assembly and governor for final approval.