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City Council-appointed advisory commission rejects $1.5B Coliseum and Downtown redevelopment plan after 3-month review

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 12/27/2019, 6 a.m.
Don’t do it. Don’t invest hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to replace the vacant Richmond Coliseum with a new ...
Richmond Coliseum

Don’t do it.

Don’t invest hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to replace the vacant Richmond Coliseum with a new 17,500-seat arena.

That’s the bottom line recommendation from the Navy Hill Development Advisory Commission, a nine-member panel appointed by Richmond City Council to review the project.

That recommendation is headed to City Council following the commission’s three-month review of the massive $1.5 billion proposal pushed by Mayor Levar M. Stoney that would make a new Coliseum the city’s No. 1 priority, but also would generate about $1 billion in private development Downtown on city-owned property near City Hall.

The commission, by a 4-2 vote, found that the project as presented requires “an up-front commitment to the arena.”

But by a 5-2 vote, with two abstentions, “a majority of commissioners did not find the proposed, publicly financed $300 million arena a sound and reasonable public investment in the redevelopment of Downtown,” stated the final report, which was issued late Monday.

The finding is a clear repudiation of the viewpoint of Navy Hill District Corp. advocates that the investment would yield huge returns in jobs and tax revenues with little risk to the city.

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Mr. Homer

By a 5-3 vote, the commission also rejected the city’s assertion that the project would not impact funding of the city’s public schools. Instead, the commission found the Navy Hill project, as the Coliseum replacement plan has been dubbed, “poses a risk to the city’s general fund and school funding,” with a portion of the commission concerned that the project also “poses a risk to other city businesses or programs.”

The commission members were appointed by City Council and led by former state Secretary of Transportation Pierce R. Homer. Its report will be formally presented to City Council on Monday, Jan 6.

The council also is awaiting the report of C.H. Johnson Consulting Inc., a Chicago firm hired by City Council to review the project. The consulting firm’s report would offer another view before the planned Feb. 24 vote to approve or kill the development that would be undertaken by the private Navy Hill District Corp. headed by Thomas F. Farrell II, the top executive at Dominion Energy.

The commission report is of little help to Mayor Stoney in his efforts to gain the required seven votes needed on City Council to sell city property for the $1.5 billion, mixed-use project. Along with a new Coliseum, the project would include a convention hotel, at least two new office buildings, more than 2,100 new apartments and multiple retail and restaurant operations in the area between 5th, 10th, Leigh and Marshall streets and in two city-owned blocks south of Broad Street.

As best as can be determined, four City Council members might vote for the project, with Council President Cynthia I. Newbille, 7th District, as the leading advocate.

Council members who have signaled they might vote against the project include Kim B. Gray, 2nd District; Council Vice President Chris A. Hilbert, 3rd District; Kristen N. Larson, 4th District; Stephanie A. Lynch, 5th District; and Reva M. Trammell, 8th District.