Richmond Mayor: State of the City is cool

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones delivered his State of the City address Thursday evening at the new Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Church Hill.

Jones opened with a video highlighting his accomplishments then went on to recap the efforts achieved by his administration.

"Accomplishments like the Redskins Park, four new schools, a new jail, six renovated libraries, renovation of the Landmark Theater," listed Jones.

Jones again pushed his plan for a new baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom, surrounded by development, touting the project's theme "Revitalize RVA."

"Richmond has never had momentum like it has right now," said the mayor. "But what I know is unless we seize the momentum, unless we make bold new moves, we will be stuck where we are, and we won't be able to get where all of us want to be."

Nonetheless, the Richmond City Council will ultimately have to be persuaded to vote for the massive project.

City Council President Charles Samuels isn't yet convinced.

"Here's why: I haven't finished my community outreach yet," said Samuels, who plans to continue talking with residents in his district. Upcoming community meetings are also planned.

Some attendees showed excitement for a Shockoe stadium.

"I think I'd be about two blocks from the new ball park, and as a baseball fan it sounds great to me. I say bring it on," said resident Jack Peirson.

Others continue to argue the development would trample Richmond's vast slave trade history.

"The baseball field itself would be on two or three historic landmarks," pointed out another member of the audience, Florence Breedlove.

Sources say the mayor plans to meet with city council members individually, hoping to persuade members to vote for the stadium in Shockoe Bottom.

Here's the full text of the address:

Good evening, everyone. I'm glad you're here, because I want you to know that the world now sees something that we've all known for a long time.

The world now sees that, "Richmond is coming into its own..." and the world now says that "while you weren't looking, Richmond… got cool."

You don't have to take my word for it. These are the words of the world's leading travel guide. They have a whole planet to market, and this year, for the first time, they're saying,

Go to the chilly coasts of Scotland…go to the pacific isles of Bali…go to the bustling centers of India…go to the sexy streets of Rio de Janeiro…and for the first time, they're also saying… to 7 billion people who can choose to go anywhere…

Go to Richmond, Virginia.

They're saying, what we already knew: Richmond is cool.

So this evening, folks, we all know that for the first time ever, the state of the City of Richmond… is global… and it's looking to the future.

I'm so glad that everyone is here tonight. Members of the Richmond City Council, the School Board, elected representatives from the area. Members of our Mayor's Youth Academy and Future Leaders Council. 

I'm glad that my friend Peter Bernard is here tonight as well. Bon Secours has shown a strong commitment to the Richmond community. His presence here reminds us that when we met one year ago, we were in a very different place as a city, but we were facing many of the same issues we face today. One year ago, we had just decided to together to bring the Washington Redskins to Richmond. We made the right decision, after we faced down the doubters. We all heard the questions. What does it cost? Why can't we just wait? Why do we have to act now? Can't we do something else instead? How can you ask taxpayers to pay for this when we need schools, when people are living in poverty, when we have other needs?

These are important questions. We're hearing them again today. And as we wrestle with these questions, it's important to remember the results we've produced.

Together with Bon Secours, we forged an 8-year partnership with the Redskins, and after just one year, we've already realized a $10.5 million economic impact. And we did it at no ultimate costs to the taxpayer. The $10 million we loaned to the EDA to build the facility is all coming back to the city through sponsorships, tenant rents and facility rentals.

To date, we have realized $6.5 million in signed lease and naming rights agreements and are in the midst of negotiating another almost $3 million in leases for the second floor. That's over $9 million of the $10 million we advanced to the EDA. And we are working with the EDA to develop other revenue sources to get us first to break even and then to profitability.

By nearly every measure, this plan not only yielded what we said it would, it delivered a lot more.

The plan was to identify pieces of land that weren't generating tax revenue, and make them start generating new money for the city. That's exactly what is happening.

The plan generated $40 million in new private investment in the City...$16 million of that is in the East End and Central City. The project is bringing in more than $400,000 in new taxes annually, and its generating new jobs and new health services.

In the west end, the Bon Secours School of Nursing is moving to the old Westhampton School. That site will go from producing NO revenue for the city… to generating NEW revenue for the city. It will bring jobs that had been OUTSIDE Richmond… and move them INSIDE Richmond.

That's why I'm so glad that we stuck with this and worked to gain the City Council's support so that this plan could be solidified.

This is great for our city's tax coffers, great for our city's public spaces and amenities, great for exposure, great for Richmond's brand.

Our city is both the legal and financial center of the region...home of the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, as well as the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond – one of 12 in the United States. We are a transportation crossroads for the Eastern part of the country, strategically located within a day's drive of approximately 60% of the U.S. population. We're a leading city in everything from the Top 10 big cities to live and work, the Most Creative, Best Outdoor Cities, Best City for Jobs, Healthiest for Women, Happiest for Young Professionals, Most Vegan Friendly.

Time and time again we get recognized and often we're on top of the list.

But here's why I know just how amazing we are: we have achieved all of this and gained this recognition in the midst of an economic downturn; while facing decreasing revenues and increasing expenses, budget gaps and shortfalls.

Today, Richmond can be judged by the results we're delivering.

Accomplishments like the Redskins Park, four new schools, a new jail, six renovated libraries, renovation of the Landmark Theater, six upgrades to the City's bond rating...the tremendous work of our Anti-Poverty Commission or the World Cycling Championships coming next year and the related economic boost for the region.

And in everything we do, we do so following our core principles...principles that say:

  • We will be competitive;
  • We will get a tangible return on any investment we make;
  • We will expand our opportunities for inclusion so that all of our citizens have a meaningful chance to share in our promise and our challenges.

And in a few short weeks, we'll be introducing our budget and you'll see the progress we're making on our balanced scorecard.

But today, that's enough talk about where we've been. I want to talk about where we are going.

So let's start with the condition of our schools.


When we opened this beautiful new school three weeks ago, we acknowledged that while beautiful environments inspire hope and neighborhood pride, what matters is learning.

For too long in Richmond, we've accepted mediocrity. Those days are over. Our school board is changing the status quo. They're exploring innovative ideas that have worked in other places, like Teach for America. They've brought in energetic new leadership, and I look forward to building a strong partnership with Dr. Bedden.

I was pleased to hear our new Superintendent affirm that Richmond Public Schools won't be just an employment agency...We are looking for him and the School Board to do their part in improving our public education system, and the City Administration has to do its part.

Our responsibility is to provide the best physical environment that we can to generate positive outcomes.

We each have primary responsibilities, but schools, my office, and the community must work together to improve educational outcomes for our young people.  We have partnered with the business community on an initiative to improve our middle schools.

 And all of the things that we are doing...things to combat poverty, to expand the tax base, to create jobs and generate opportunity...all of these things are with an eye toward the bigger picture that will help us, as a city, get the outcomes that we want to see on so many fronts...

...simply a better Richmond...the Best Richmond for all of us, but especially for the future of our young people.

Between FY2009 and FY2014 the City has approved or appropriated a total of $161M for Schools construction; $9.5M for Schools maintenance; and $21.3M for Schools ADA compliance. This compares with a total of only $14.7M that was appropriated between FY2005 and FY2008 for Schools capital needs.

That $161 Million includes $23.4 million that City Council has already approved for a new Overby Shepherd Elementary, which will help catalyze continued progress of the emerging new Highland Grove mixed-income neighborhood. We've got to stay focused on building quality schools and quality community centers.

Even with our stepped up investment in schools, today we know that we face school maintenance needs approaching $100M. I've got a plan to address that and I will bring that plan forward in my budget presentation in a few short weeks. We will meaningfully fund school maintenance needs in our city. We simply must.


Even as we continue to work to make our schools more competitive, we are also investing in major economic development projects that will help nurture our competitive advantage.

In Shockoe, we're bringing the train station alive, to include a new welcome center and indoor market. Main Street Station will also serve as a multi-modal transportation center linking AMTRAK, MegaBus, GRTC and other forms of transportation.

We have planned investment in Riverfront development that will connect the river's use to downtown and remove pedestrian barriers to ensure greater access.

Gateway Plaza is going up downtown and in anticipation of the investment and job creation opportunities that will accompany the completion in 2015 of the Panama Canal expansion project; we are investing in the Commerce and Deepwater Terminal Road area near the Port of Richmond in order to attract businesses and potential new jobs.  Since we revamped the governance structure of the Port of Richmond and leased it to the Virginia Port Authority it has made great progress.  For example there are five barges a week between here and Hampton Roads up from just two, two years ago.

And as a foundational element of our anti-poverty efforts, we've completed two phases of our public housing transformation strategy in Highland Park, and are working with a highly-regarded national developer to initiate redevelopment of Creighton Court and Whitcomb Court in the City's east end.

We are also focused on revitalization projects along the Broad Street corridor and for the greater Downtown Arts and Cultural District.

The latest illustrative example of our progress is the $30 million redevelopment of the former Central Fidelity Bank Building. This long-neglected iconic structure will create new commercial energy in our downtown, and in turn, nurture continued job growth and generate new tax revenues.   

We're no longer hemorrhaging people or money. Those days are past.

Today, we're growing again. Young people are moving into Richmond, not out. Our finances are growing stronger, not weaker. We're now one step away from a top-tier AAA rating.

Stronger finances make everything more achievable, whether it is improving city schools or revitalizing a neighborhood.

Our strength no longer depends on the surrounding counties. We're growing strong on our own because all great regions need strong core cities.

Richmond has never had momentum like this before.

But what I know is....unless we seize the momentum and make bold new moves, we'll be stuck where we are and we won't get to where we need to be.

There is a cost to not acting...

The reality is, as the city grows, so do our expenses. Our public schools, roads, and numerous other services need more money.

The best option for us is to expand our tax base to generate more property tax and sales tax revenue.


And that is what Revitalize RVA is all about.

I want to be clear. The Redskins project was about more than football, and the Shockoe plan is about more than baseball.

Revitalize RVA is about creating good, living wage jobs that people can get to.  It's about taking non-revenue-producing parcels of land, and ensuring that they are strategic revenue-generating properties for the city. This plan is about investments that will generate new money that we can use for schools and neighborhoods. The plan is simply good business.

We all know our schools need a lot of help, and it's going to take more money. Neighborhoods along Jeff Davis Highway need sidewalks. Streets in the Fan need new streetlights. We need more officers on the street.

All of that takes money.

So where's it going to come from?

We could generate it by raising the real estate tax rate. But we already pay the highest rate in central Virginia. That hits everybody hard, rich and poor alike. So that's not a good option.

Or we could get more people to shop in Richmond, to generate more sales tax revenue.

But that's not going to happen, because we don't have a general retail store, in the City of Richmond, north of the James River. We did have that a generation ago, when Thalhimers and Miller & Rhoads anchored downtown. But those days are past, and we haven't had that since then.

Today, when our citizens go shopping, they pay a sales tax that sends money to Henrico and Chesterfield. The 1% that localities get to keep is left in the counties. That 1% translates into millions that help the counties enjoy lower real estate tax rates and that helps the counties pay their bills.

No other capital city would settle for that, and neither should we.

Let's look at this squarely; the city has the highest tax rate in the area at $1.20 per 1,000, and we've also got the highest poverty rate at 26% - equating to over 50,000 people in poverty.

Anything short of bold and intelligent action to address this reality is unacceptable.

We also can't take a half-baked approach to addressing these needs. This is not a time to cut and paste...we need bold action if we are to realize the full benefit of this pivotal point in our city.

Revitalize RVA is a bold plan.

It's a jobs and economic development plan designed to generate as much new tax revenue as possible by unlocking the potential of two of Richmond's major undeveloped sites.

It takes an under-producing asset in the floodplain and makes it produce.

It opens us up to get the best use out of valuable real estate on the Boulevard in a city where we have very limited strategically located land.

This plan turns that strategic underutilized land into a high producing asset.

I want to keep professional baseball in central Virginia, and we need to do it in a way that benefits Richmond the most. That clearly means locating the ballpark in Shockoe, so we can mitigate the flooding problem affordably, while opening the Boulevard to full development.

The alternative is a course that leaves Shockoe behind and fails to create the right conditions for the Slavery and Freedom Heritage site to succeed.

Ladies and gentlemen, that's the cost of not acting. That's the cost of delay.

When we look at the next 20 years, let's do so with a vision of leaving no one behind. A real vision for our city has to include a plan to face the 26% poverty rate we've been battling.  A real vision – our vision – considers the state of our schools and the needs of our children.

What we have right now is an opportunity to address our problems in either a small way or in a big way.

For me the choice is clear…we MUST get the best return on our investment and continue to follow our core principles - principles that have been getting results.

It's time to meet these challenges in a big way.

This city can be the greatest capital city in the nation; all we need to do is seize the opportunity. 

Let's Revitalize RVA.

Copyright 2014 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved