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Richmond City Council Takes Two Committee Votes Against Coliseum Redevelopment Deal

Richmond city council chambers

Richmond City Council sent a strong message to Mayor Levar Stoney that it will not support the current proposal to redevelop the Coliseum and surrounding Navy Hill neighborhood.

 A majority of Richmond City Council members voted Monday night to send the project’s full proposal, which includes 10 new ordinances, to the next full council meeting with a recommendation to kill it. Then, a majority also voted in favor of a resolution asking Stoney to  pull the currentplan. The two votes, approved by five of the nine city councilors, signal the likely end of the two-year-long vetting of the development deal.

Kim Gray, Chris Hilbert, Stephanie Lynch and Reva Trammell are among the council members who voted in support of both of these moves and against the development. 

Fourth District City Councilwoman Kristen Larson, who co-sponsored the resolution to scrap the plan, said it’s time to go back to the drawing board and find something that makes more sense for Richmond taxpayers.

“I and my other council members are in favor of development, and especially development in this area, we just need to hit the reset button,” she said. 

Among other things, the resolution urges Mayor Stoney’s administration to draft a specific proposal 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 $1.5 million proposal, created by Stoney and the NH District Corp. developers, was released last year. It includes a new, publicly funded Downtown arena and more than $1 billion 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.

The 10 ordinances outlining the various parts of the project will now move on to the next full meeting of Richmond City Council on Feb. 10 with a recommendation to strike. 

Sixth District City Councilwoman Ellen Robertson, a staunch supporter of the Navy Hill deal, lamented the votes, and the potentially hundreds of affordable housing units that wouldn’t get built.

She encouraged pro-Navy Hill residents to come to the next meeting.

“If, on February 10, there are not a majority of council members to overrule that, the Navy HIll deal is dead,” Robertson said. “I think it’s important for everyone to know that.”

On Monday, city council members also heard from C.H. Johnson Consulting, who they hired to analyze the project. 

Charles Johnson, the president of the consulting firm, said the financial projects and proposed arena size were sound, but said the city lacks the capacity to handle a project of that size. The firm also found it concerning that there is still no plan for creating a new GRTC Transit Center or relocating the city’s Department of Social Services, both of which are part of the proposal. 

Richmond City Council paid C.H. Johnson Consulting $215,000 for the analysis. 

An independent, citizen-led commission issued a report in December saying a publicly funded arena was not  a “reasonable and sound public investment.” A majority of the commission members also found the project posed a risk to school funding.

Jeff Kelley, a spokesperson for NH District Corp., said the city council vote upended a years-long process without considering amendments or dialogue.

“After hundreds of meetings, dozens of public hearings, and recent announcements on job creation and community benefits, our hope was that instead of looking for ways to vote “no” on the Navy hill project, these City Council members would come to the table with solutions or ideas for ways to improve it,” Kelley said in a statement. “Instead, our proactive attempts to sit down with each of these five members have been met with silence.”

Kelley said they would still attempt to work with council members to address their concerns before the final vote.