In deep: IRS filings show Dominion Energy committed $20M over 20 years for naming rights for a new Coliseum

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 1/10/2020, 6 a.m.
Dominion Energy is more entwined in the $1.5 billion Coliseum replacement and Downtown redevelopment proposal than previously disclosed.

Dominion Energy is more entwined in the $1.5 billion Coliseum replacement and Downtown redevelopment proposal than previously disclosed.

The energy giant, led by Thomas F. Farrell II who also is spearheading the Coliseum replacement plan through the Navy Hill District Corp., has agreed to pay $20 million over two decades for the naming rights to the proposed $235 million, 17,500-seat arena.

Mr. Farrell

Mr. Farrell

Under the plan, Navy Hill would build the new Coliseum and Richmond taxpayers, including his company, would pay for it.

The discovery of Dominion’s enhanced role emerged as a new poll conducted Jan. 4 through 7 by the American Research Group found that 60 percent of residents in the city’s 3rd District, which is represented by City Council Vice President Chris A. Hilbert, oppose the Coliseum proposal.

The results of the poll of 300 residents mirror those from a previous ARG poll of 5th District residents that found a similar level of opposition. New Councilwoman Stephanie Lynch represents the 5th District.

The discovery came as City Council began public hearings on the findings of its nine-member Navy Hill Development Advisory Commission. By a 5-2 vote with two abstentions, the commission recommended in late December a rejection of taxpayer involvement in the Coliseum replacement plan, finding the proposal would not be “a sound and reasonable public investment.”

The public hearings are among the steps City Council is taking as it moves toward a vote in late February on the massive plan for a new arena and private development near City Hall. Mayor Levar M. Stoney is pressing the council to approve Mr. Farrell’s plan.

The plan also calls for bringing in more than 2,000 apartments, a 527-room hotel, office space, a GRTC transfer station and restaurants and retail to transform eight blocks of largely city-owned property located north of Broad Street between the Coliseum and City Hall, as well as two blocks of city-owned land south of Broad Street.

The council also will hold a public hearing before the vote on the proposal that Council President Cynthia I. Newbille has targeted for Monday, Feb. 24. The council is awaiting a separate consultant’s report, with a preliminary finding due on Friday, Jan. 31, and a final report expected by Monday, Feb. 10.

Mr. Thomas

Mr. Thomas

Based on council views, the mayor still appears to lack the seven votes needed to move the project forward, though he told the Free Press he remains “optimistic.”

The disclosure of Dominion’s heightened role resulted from political writer Jeff Thomas using government public disclosure laws to obtain documents from the nonprofit Navy Hill District Corp. that Mr. Farrell and other prominent individuals created to handle the giant development.

Mr. Thomas, who last year requested that the Internal Rev- enue Service revoke Navy Hill’s nonprofit status for violation of regulations governing such tax-exempt entities, secured the documents by seeking from Navy Hill a copy of its nonprofit application and related documents, including responses to IRS questions before the nonprofit status was approved last spring. “The documents reveal (that) the naming rights were sold to Dominion for $1 million a year for 20 years,” Mr. Thomas noted in an email.

He stated the documents also show that Navy Hill told the IRS that it had “zero revenue” as of Nov. 28, 2018, even though a previously released financial report from Navy Hill to the IRS showed that Dominion and Union Bank, predecessor of Atlantic Union Bank, jointly contributed $3.5 million prior to June 30, 2018.

Mr. Griffin

Mr. Griffin

One reason that the Navy Hill proposal may be falling flat with the public is that the sales pitch is largely unchanged from 50 years ago when City Council was pitched to approve the original Coliseum, which was shut down in January 2019.

Justin Griffin, a Richmond attorney who created the NoColiseum.com website, noted in a Facebook post on New Year’s Day that “the same exact talking points and promises were made in (1967) when the current Coliseum was proposed.”

He posted quotes and promises from the City Council and a citizen’s commission at the time and from the financial documents used to justify the development.

One example from 1967: “The construction of the Coliseum will be a powerful influence on the overall revitalization of the downtown that city policy has been aiming at.”

Another example: “The Coliseum will give employment to people in all walks of life. ... It will have advantages for all citizens regardless of what economic status they may be in.”

The unrealized promises included assurances that the Coliseum would help Richmond become one of the South’s leading basketball cities, bring in additional revenue to the city, stimulate night life and additional Downtown growth and development and attract more visitors and conventions. None of those promises came true.

Mr. Griffin also quoted the opposition at the time to the Coliseum from the Richmond Taxpayers Association: “We are extremely concerned that a large outlay for a luxury project might undermine the ability of the city to provide quality education.”

He also quoted the words of then-City Council member Robert C. Throckmorton, who objected to the investment and predicted the Coliseum “will be a total flop.”

Have your say

Want to express your thoughts about the Coliseum replacement and Downtown redevelopment plan?

Richmond City Council is holding a series of public hearings on the proposed Navy Hill project.

The schedule:

Thursday, Jan. 9, 6 p.m., Pine Camp Cultural Arts and Community Center, 4901 Old Brook Road

Tuesday, Jan. 14, 6 p.m., Southside Community Services Center, 4100 Hull Street Road

Wednesday, Jan. 15, 6 p.m., Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, 1000 Mosby St.

Thursday, Jan. 16, 6 p.m., Richmond City Council Chambers, 2nd floor Richmond City Hall, 900 E. Broad St.

Details or questions: Contact Richmond City Clerk Candice D. Reid, (804) 646-7955 or candice.reid@richmo….