12/3/2020, 6 p.m.
We were not surprised that the developers of the defunct new Richmond Coliseum and Downtown development project ran to the welcoming embrace of Henrico County when their costly $1.5 billion Navy Hill project was rejected last year in Richmond.
Instead of working out a solution to overcome the obstacles to a new Coliseum in Richmond, the developers took the easier route — a move to the county, where the planned project is larger and even more expensive.
The project, now called GreenCity, would cost $2.3 billion and would be located on 250 acres in Henrico off Parham Road between Interstates 95 and 295, on the headquarters site of the former Best Products.
It, too, would have retail and office space, two hotels (compared with one in the Richmond proposal), 2,400 housing units (compared with 2,300 in the Richmond plan) and a 17,000-seat arena (compared with a 17,500-seat new coliseum in the Richmond proposal).
It also would have more greenspace than the Navy Hill project in Richmond and supposedly would create jobs and tax revenue to help pay for the bonds to finance the arena.
That all sounds fine and good. But we hope members of the Henrico County Board of Supervisors — and the voters in the county — will scrutinize the plan with the same intensity as Richmonders and the City Council to ensure the project’s short-term and long-term viability and to protect the financial interests of Henrico taxpayers.
Certainly, while the developers believe making the project larger will help make it easier to pay off the 30-year debt, Henrico residents should look at the attendance and financial projections underpinning the arena. The rosy projections offered by the developers in Richmond were just that — too rosy, according to analysts. Those involved with the project claimed a new Coliseum would generate attendance of more than 600,000 people a year to concerts, sporting and other events. But in 2018 before it closed, the Richmond Coliseum had paid attendance of only 130,651, according to a firm that tracks such data nationwide. Of the top 200 arenas worldwide based on ticket sales, Richmond ranked 131st at the time.
The closer the time came to the vote by City Council, the more pressure the developers put on the city, with promises of bringing in a minor league hockey team and a top management company to run a new Coliseum and to attract top acts if it was approved. The developers also had at least one company promising to expand into the planned office tower and promising to create 1,000 new jobs if the Navy Hill project went forward.
We hope Henrico voters and the Board of Supervisors don’t get sucked into that same high-pressure sales vortex that may cause a whirlwind of shortages for county taxpayers to make up.
We also expect that Henrico officials ultimately will ask the City of Richmond for financial support for the new arena because it is being touted as having a regional benefit and draw. But we never heard Henrico or Chesterfield officials volunteer to help pay for or support a new Richmond Coliseum.
Nor have we heard any early talk about creating affordable housing in the new GreenCity plan, or any assurance of minority participation in its construction. There are so many unanswered questions.
When the newness and excitement of the GreenCity announcement wears off, we hope that astute and level heads will prevail with a heaping amount of discernment.
As a region, Richmond and its neighbors are all connected. What happens to one jurisdiction can impact us all.
We are eager to see how this plays out with our Henrico neighbors.