City Council approves Diamond District project, lawsuit follows

George Copeland Jr. | 5/16/2024, 6 p.m.
Richmond City Council made a big swing in determining the future of the city, with members unanimously approving a new …
Mr. Goldman

Richmond City Council made a big swing in determining the future of the city, with members unanimously approving a new redevelopment project in the Diamond District during a special meeting last Wednesday afternoon. Outside of Council Chambers, the reaction was more mixed.

In response to the proposed project, attorney and community advocate Paul Goldman filed a lawsuit last Thursday that seeks to stop the issuing of $170 million in bonds as part of the project.

“I know this decision today might concern some people, I understand it — this is a risk we’re taking on this opportunity,” Andreas Addison, 1st District, said during last week’s meeting. “But I see so much more potential upside that I think comes out of this, that I think benefits a lot of people.”

The project is expected to transform dozens of acres of land, replace the almost 40-year-old Diamond with a new baseball stadium and park, and build new public spaces around the site.

Special surcharges and taxes within the district for hotels, sales and meals would help maintain the development of the area, according to Sharon Ebert, Richmond deputy chief administrative officer for economic and community development.

Mr. Goldman, however, has challenged the approval of the project in his lawsuit, which names Mayor Levar M. Stoney, seven city council members, Richmond City Clerk Candice Reid and Richmond Circuit Court Clerk Edward Jewett as defendants.

The suit claims the development and approval of the Diamond District project violates the state constitution, the Richmond City Charter and “several interrelated First Amendment rights.”

Mr. Goldman also asserts that the proposal was not properly conducted with residents’ thoughts and concerns in mind.

“In the long history of Richmond, indeed (...) in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia, no Mayor nor City Council have ever rushed through such a general obligation bond deal for a sports arena in such a short amount of time,” Mr. Goldman wrote in the suit, “leaving the public no practical opportunity to play a meaningful role in the process.”

Mr. Goldman previously held a major role in community efforts against two failed proposals for a casino supported by Mayor Stoney and City Council members. A judge is set to hear the case on Thursday, according to Mr. Goldman and officials at the Richmond City Circuit Court.

Mr. Goldman was not the only person to raise concerns over the stadium financing. Hours before City Council approved the issuance, the Richmond Crusade for Voters’ Board of Directors shared their worries over the potential financial burden residents would have to shoulder in a press release.

They also joined with the independent political group Richmond For All in calling for a referendum on the proposal.

“We believe that residents should have a direct voice in matters of such magnitude, Crusade President Marty Jewell said in a statement. “A referendum ensures that the people’s will guides decisions that profoundly impact our city’s financial landscape.”

If the Diamond District project is allowed to continue, development is expected to start in June.

On Monday, City Council also unanimously voted to approve Mayor Stoney’s $2.5 billion budget proposal with several amendments added after multiple meetings and public comment.

An additional $17.6 million was reallocated to the Richmond Public Schools budget for a total of $239.3 million, pulling funding from other parts of the proposal, including $2.5 million from the now-postponed demolition of the Richmond Coliseum.