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Majority Of Richmond City Council Urges Mayor To Pull Coliseum Redevelopment Deal

Richmond coliseum
Richmond Coliseum (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

*Yasmine Jumaa contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: this story was updated at 10:00 p.m. to include comments from Mayor Levar Stoney and city council member Kim Gray.

The majority of Richmond City Council members are asking Mayor Levar Stoney to pull the plug on the $1.5 billion redevelopment of the city’s downtown before a final vote on the deal next month.

A resolution co-sponsored by five counselors was introduced at the end of Monday’s council meeting.  VPM obtained a draft version of the resolution, which could signal the end of the proposal that will require a supermajority of city council members - seven of nine - to be approved. Kim Gray, Chris Hilbert, Kristen Larson and Reva Trammell all signed on to the resolution.

The resolution was first reported by Jason Roop, a freelance reporter and former Style Weekly editor. 

Among other things, the resolution asks the city to scrap its current proposal. It urges Stoney’s administration to draft a specific plan for the Coliseum’s redevelopment with “robust, city-wide public input” and conduct an appraisal of the public land being sold in the deal. 

The resolution also highlights the displeasure of the city council members at the request for proposals (RFP) process that lasted only 96 days and received just one proposal. That proposal came from NH District Corporation, which submitted plans for the current $1.5 billion deal that includes a new, publicly funded Downtown arena and more than a billion dollars in private apartments, retail and office space in the surrounding Navy Hill neighborhood.

The construction of the new arena would use an 80-block special taxing district to devote new tax revenue to pay off a $300 million loan over 30 years.

Mayor Levar Stoney called the resolution laughable and irresponsible and said withdrawing the deal was off the table. 

“I’m the eternal optimist,” Stoney said. “This project’s going to keep on going until [city council members] do their part and do their jobs.” 

Stoney touted the plan’s benefits, and the city’s efforts to address resident concerns throughout the planning process.

“We’ve got a piece of legislation at the General Assembly that shrinks the TIF district down from 80 to 11 blocks; we’ve met the 15% affordable housing threshold; we’ve attracted a Nasdaq 100 company in CoStar, who wants to bring 2000 jobs to downtown Richmond,” Stoney said. “A hockey team is attracted to moving into the Navy Hill footprint.”

But 2nd District City Councilmember Kim Gray said there’s some concern over the project’s transparency. 

“Within the last couple of weeks they’ve put forward major changes,” Gray said, “I think those should have been presented when the commission was still meeting so they could have evaluated those things.”

In a statement Wednesday night, Jeff Kelley, a spokesman for NH District Corp., said the resolution “could discredit the City of Richmond’s business reputation for years to come.”

Kelley said that instead of offering ways to make the project better, the five council members are “putting their heads in the sand.”

“We proactively sought to sit down with each of these five members to ask them for their ideas, amendments and recommendations to make this the best possible deal for Richmond, to which they have offered nothing,” the statement read. 

Kelley also pushed back against the assertion that the public input process was wanting, pointing to news articles about community engagement events as far back as January of 2018. He said "community engagement" was one of the requirements of the city's RFP. 

A citizen-led commission held dozens of public work sessions and feedback meetings across the city late last year. But that commission ultimately found that a $300 million arena was not a “sound and reasonable public investment in the redevelopment of downtown.”

Richmond City Council is expected to vote on the Navy Hill Proposal on Feb. 24. 

 

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