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Planning Commission signs off on Diamond District land transfer

A group of people wearing business clothing stand in a line
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Seven Richmond City Council members stand with members of Mayor Levar Stoney's administration at an April council meeting. Council President Mike Jones (fourth from left) speaks to council's chambers.

Richmond’s City Planning Commission greenlit the transfer of land for the proposed Diamond District plan at its meeting Monday, ahead of next week’s scheduled City Council vote on whether to approve a contract between the city and a developer for the major redevelopment project.

The Diamond District is a $2.4 billion redevelopment centered around replacement of the home stadium of Richmond’s minor league baseball team, the Flying Squirrels. The project will be a mixed-income and mixed-use development on roughly 67 acres near Scott’s Addition and Interstate 95.

The city announced it came to an agreement with RVA Diamond Partners LLC late last month, after council approved the administration’s choice in September. RVA Diamond Partners is a consortium of businesses, most prominently the Glen Allen–based real estate developer Thalhimer.

The president of the Flying Squirrels previously raised the prospect that the team would have to leave the city. In statements to Richmond Times-Dispatch, Lou DiBella has said lengthy negotiations were putting the future of the baseball franchise in jeopardy since Major League Baseball sets a deadline of the 2025 season to adhere to standards for stadiums.

Richmond’s April announcement said that the new stadium’s opening day would be for the beginning of the Flying Squirrels’ 2026 season.

The new stadium will have a minimum capacity of 9,000 and cost the city $110 million: $90 million in construction and finishing, and another $20 million in “soft costs” such as design, project management and permit fees, according to a city spokesperson.

That later timeline for the stadium was one of four changes from the term sheet, a tentative statement on what a deal could look like between the developers and the city, according to that announcement.

Under the agreement the city would convey the project’s land to the city’s Economic Development Authority, which would then work with the city to sell that parcel to the developer. The sale of the 67 acres would garner $68.3 million, according to a presentation prepared for Monday’s City Council meeting.

Director of Economic Development Leonard Sledge told the Planning Commission on Monday that Richmond cannot petition to create a Community Development Authority, but the Economic Development Authority could. A CDA could then finance the development through the issuance of bonds.

Richmond would also now be responsible for the public infrastructure in the first phase of the project’s four phases, at a cost of $54 million. $10.8 million would come from the sale of land for the project’s first phase, and the city would issue $23.7 million in new bonds. Previously issued bonds and DPU Enterprise revenue bonds would make up the remainder.

The press release also said that an incremental tax district would be created around properties on Arthur Ashe Boulevard and Hermitage Road, citing “the desire of the City and the surrounding residents to have a cohesive streetscape surrounding the Diamond District.”

Those new taxes would pay for infrastructure improvements on these roads and Robin Hood Road “to create a gateway experience for visitors as they enter into this section of the city.”

Quinton Robbins, political director of Richmond For All, a member-based group of progressives, said residents should have more transparency around this new tax district.

“We were not initially opposed because it was limited to the project area,” he said of the new proposed tax district. “They have not published parcel numbers, it's just sort of a vague map. And I think the public is owed very specific information.”

The mixed-use and mixed-income development is in keeping with city officials’ stated strategies of denser, mixed growth. The presentation that will be shown to council includes a claim that the entire project will add a “net benefit” of roughly $1 billion by 2068.

The Diamond District is staged in four phases that will contain a minimum of 2,947 housing units and 590 affordable housing units.

Mayor Levar Stoney has said the city has a shortage of 23,320 housing units.

The first phase will include 1,212 new housing units with 194 affordable housing units, alongside 23,000 square feet of commercial space.

In a recent report, real estate company Colliers said that the fundamentals of the Richmond office space market would gradually weaken in the near term.

“Landlords with quality, well located product and smaller available suites will see more success than those with more dated and/or larger vacancies. Increasing market activity and the transition to more ‘in office’ work policies by employers offer hope for improved market conditions,” the report said.

Jahd Khalil covers Virginia state politics for VPM News.