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Readers weigh in on Coliseum and Downtown development proposal

1/10/2020, 6 a.m.
Re: “Thumbs down: City Council-appointed advisory commission rejects $1.5B Coliseum and Downtown redevelopment plan after 3-month review,” Free Press Dec. ...

I read in the newspaper that the arena has been ranked as one of the top venues in the United States to include black-owned vending. A Virginia Union University hospitality school even has a partnership with the hotel and new arena in providing many of their employees.

I also see a mixture of people of various ethnicities and races living, shopping and working in this new Navy Hill development.

But what I’m most proud of is that the people involved were actually willing to humble themselves and tone down their ego and do what’s right.

The bottom line is this: Real restoration of Navy Hill must be economic restitution in making sure that much of the black wealth destroyed by years of local, state, federal and private development be revived in great measure in this project.

STUART M. SPEARS

Richmond

VCU, and not Richmond residents, stands to gain from Navy Hill project

The main beneficiary of the proposed Navy Hill project is Virginia Commonwealth University, not Richmond’s residents.

Dominion Energy Chief Executive Officer Tom Farrell II, who also heads the Navy Hill Development Corp., sat on VCU’s Board of Visitors, and his son, Peter Farrell, recently was appointed to the VCU board by Gov. Ralph S. Northam.

The newly approved VCU Master Plan quietly includes plans to partner in the Navy Hill development: “VCU and VCU Health System support the project and are exploring potential partnerships.”

There exists a tremendous pent-up demand for housing and office space near VCU’s land-locked medical campus. However, the Navy Hill Development Corp. would have us believe that the city-owned land adjacent to the VCU campus is of depressed value and won’t be developed without their help. The city-owned land adjacent to VCU is worth many times the value stated in the Navy Hill proposal.

It is unseemly that the city accepted only one bid for the $1.5 billion Navy Hill project from Mr. Farrell’s group. Then, after the bids were closed, the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) zone morphed by 800 percent from 10 blocks to 80 blocks to include Mr. Farrell’s new Dominion tower south of Broad Street.

Richmond should not be duped into thinking that the proposed dorm-like studio apartments will help our low-income residents. The project’s ballyhooed 480 new affordable housing units would be occupied largely by students at VCU’s medical campus, which has a large shortage of dorm rooms.

Likewise, VCU needs the office and research space that would be built by the growing university, regardless of the Navy Hill project.

A new Richmond Coliseum would be a venue for VCU commencements, sporting events and concerts. So why is VCU, which pays no city real estate taxes, putting no “skin in the game” toward building the new Coliseum?

It is worth noting that the much-heralded John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville was built by the University of Virginia and not by the City of Charlottesville.

The unintended consequence of the Navy Hill District proposal would be to starve city schools of funding while subsidizing a development bonanza for VCU. It would be reckless for Rich- mond to mortgage all new revenue from 80 prime blocks of its Downtown for the next 30 years for this project.