Moving on up or out? Mayor Stoney submits to City Council $1.5B Coliseum replacement and Downtown development plan

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 8/9/2019, 6 a.m.
Five months ago, Mayor Levar M. Stoney was singing the revenue blues as he introduced his latest budget. He told ...

At this point, the John Marshall Courts Building is to remain at its current location at 9th and Clay streets. The city has not included a projected cost to replace the courts building if the circuit court judges do not accept the loss of the large parking lot that serves the building and order the city to build a new courthouse.

Critics already are calling the Navy Hill development a boondoggle rife with “sweetheart deals” for favored supporters and that it is built — like the Washington NFL team’s Richmond training camp — on exaggerated claims of job creation and revenues for the city.

Residents and City Council members still have months to go before the project comes up for a vote. Sometime in September, the council is expected to finish setting up a commission it has established to review the more than 1,000 pages of ordinances and other documents that the mayor presented. The commission would then have 90 days to undertake its review, meaning it could be January or February before City Council actually puts the plan on the agenda for a vote.

As presented in the plan, at least seven of the nine City Council members would have to approve the measure as spelled out in the state Constitution because the proposal calls for selling city property to either Navy Hill District or the city’s Economic Development Authority.

Residents also could have a chance to weigh in before a council vote if a referendum on the project developed by Paul Goldman, leader of the Put Schools First campaign, makes the Nov. 5 ballot.

“There’s a lot to consider,” said Councilwoman Kim B. Gray, 2nd District, who along with Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell, 8th District, pushed for the outside commission to review the plan.

“What do we need to spend and what will the benefit be? Are the numbers we are being given realistic or exaggerated?” Ms. Gray asked.

Among the key issues is the financing mechanism for the proposed new Coliseum. The mayor is calling for creation of a Tax Increment Financing District, or TIF, to pay for the Coliseum. The TIF would include the 10-block target area around the Coliseum and 70 other blocks of Downtown, bounded by 1st Street, Interstate 95, 10th Street and the Downtown Expressway.

Under the plan, a baseline would be established on the amount of taxes currently being collected, with any increase in real estate property taxes being directed into a special fund to repay the $330 million in revenue bonds that the Economic Development Authority would issue.

The fund also would receive from the smaller targeted development area increases in other city taxes, including admissions, business license and sales taxes, to be used to pay the debt on the new arena.

Virtually all of the growth in tax revenue that ordinarily would go to the general fund would be used for at least 15 years — and possibly up to 30 years — to pay off the debt for the new Coliseum. Any excess would go to the general fund, the mayor stated.