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Yes, no and maybe: Coliseum vote likely would fail if vote was taken today

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 8/30/2019, 6 a.m.
The Navy Hill District Corp. plan to replace the Richmond Coliseum and bring more than $1 billion in new development ...
Coliseum in Downtown Richmond Photo by Sandra Sellars

The Navy Hill District Corp. plan to replace the Richmond Coliseum and bring more than $1 billion in new development nearby has yet to gain the backing of City Council.

Despite a full-court lobbying press and continued op-eds from supporters close to the project published in Richmond’s daily newspaper, which is backing the plan, the project likely would fail if City Council were to vote on it after returning from the summer recess.

As it now stands — and as a citizens’ group continues to battle to get the proposal on the ballot so voters can weigh in — at least four council members, and potentially five, would likely reject the proposal at this time, based on their public statements.

The plan calls for taxpayer funds to build a new 17,500-seat arena, a linchpin of the proposal that the Navy Hill group led by Dominion Energy’s top executive, Thomas F. Farrell II, has presented and that Mayor Levar M. Stoney has embraced.

At least seven council members are needed to support the ordinances that were introduced by the Stoney administration earlier this month because a key element of the plan involves the sale of municipal property, including parcels located north of Broad Street in the area bounded by Marshall, Leigh, 5th and 10th streets and others located to the south in the area bounded by Franklin, Broad, 4th and 7th streets.

The state Constitution requires that three-fourths of the council support any sale of city property.

Whether plan backers can shift members to their side remains to be seen in the coming months.

However, the lack of sufficient support is similar to the problem that former Mayor Dwight C. Jones faced several years ago when he proposed moving the city’s minor league baseball stadium to Shockoe Bottom. Within four weeks of unveiling his plan, it was clear he could not gain the seven votes needed.

At least one member of the council can be listed as a hard no on the Coliseum project, 8th District Councilwoman Reva M. Trammell. She has said people in her district want to their taxes used to improve city services and oppose having the growth in taxes in Downtown earmarked to pay for an arena hosting acts many could not afford to attend.

Others considered likely to oppose the plan if the vote is taken now include Council Vice President Chris A. Hilbert, 3rd District, and outgoing 5th District Councilman Parker C. Agelasto.

While Mr. Hilbert voted at a special Aug. 14 City Council meeting against putting the proposal on the ballot as a non-binding resolution, he also said at the time that he “is very unlikely, at this point, to support this proposal because I just see way too many holes in it out of the gate.”

Mr. Hilbert, who has long experience in reviewing developments as an underwriter and senior community housing officer with the Virginia Housing Development Authority, told the audience he is skeptical of the projections for tax generation associated with the project.