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Richmond native files complaint about Navy Hill District Corp. with Internal Revenue Service; City Council vote on project may come as late as March

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 11/22/2019, 6 a.m.
The battle over the proposed $1.5 billion Navy Hill District Corp. project in Downtown could rage for a few more ...
Richmond Coliseum Photo by Sandra Sellars

The battle over the proposed $1.5 billion Navy Hill District Corp. project in Downtown could rage for a few more months.

Amid fresh twists in the saga, hopes appear to be fading for a City Council vote in January on the plan Mayor Levar M. Stoney is backing to replace the vacant Richmond Coliseum and develop prime city-owned real estate near City Hall for a hotel, office buildings, more than 2,000 apartments and restaurants and retail outlets.

At this point, City Council is still engaged in hiring an independent consultant to review the project. Based on the procurement document, the consultant would have up to 90 days to review the project and provide a report to City Council offering an opinion on the project’s risks and benefits.

As of the Free Press deadline on Wednesday, the mandatory notice of the city’s intent to award a contract had not been posted on the city’s website, suggesting it could be December before a contract is signed.

If that happens, then City Council might not receive the consultant’s report until late February, ensuring that it would be sometime in March before a vote could be taken.

The consultant would operate separately from the Navy Hill Development Advisory Commission that the council previously set up and which expects to issue its report by mid to late December to meet its 90-day deadline.

A delay might benefit advocates of the project. Despite the energy and effort that has gone into selling the expensive plan, it does not appear that the mayor has the seven votes needed on City Council to approve the key element — the sale of city property to the group spearheading the project.

Based on their statements, two council members maintain firm opposition to the project — Kim B. Gray, 2nd District, and Reva M. Trammell, 8th District.

At a Tuesday meeting of the Richmond Crusade for Voters, incoming 5th District Councilwoman Stephanie Lynch indicated that she would likely be a “no” vote on the project. Before and after winning the Nov. 5 election to replace Councilman Parker C. Agelasto on Dec. 1, Ms. Lynch said she found at least 60 percent of the district’s residents do not support the project.

Others on council who have indicated concern or skepticism about the plan include Council Vice President Chris A. Hilbert, 3rd District, and Kristen N. Larson, 4th District.

Likely supporters of the Coliseum and Downtown development project include City Council President Cynthia I. Newbille, 7th District; Andreas D. Addison, 1st District; and Ellen F. Robert- son, 6th District, who have either issued endorsements or taken supportive positions. Councilman Michael J. Jones, 9th District, has not committed himself publicly.

The prospects for approval were not aided this week with the well-publicized filing of a complaint to the Internal Revenue Service challenging the nonprofit status of Navy Hill District Corp., which has spearheaded the proposal for the past two years.

The complaint was filed by Richmond native Jeff Thomas, an author who lives in Washington and alleges that NHDC has violated IRS rules barring nonprofits from lobbying elected officials.