Coliseum development finalized; City Council to review plans

Updated: Aug. 1, 2019 at 7:27 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The redevelopment of the Richmond Coliseum is one step closer to a reality as contract negotiations between the City and developer are finalized.

Mayor Levar Stoney made the announcement Thursday afternoon in front of a large crowd in the hallway of City Hall. The plan, in the form of ordinances and legal documents, will be submitted to the Richmond City Council on Aug. 5 during a special meeting scheduled for noon.

“The Richmond City Council looks forward to the receipt, review and execution of the full vetting and due diligence that such a proposed transformative project necessitates and Richmonders deserve,” Council President Cynthia I. Newbille said.

Since Stoney introduced the Navy Hill Redevelopment plan 21 months ago, the City, Richmond-based community leaders of the nonprofit NH Foundation on behalf of the Navy Hill District Corporation (NHDC) and the developer, Capital City Partners, have negotiated the terms of the project, which lasted 17 months.

“They say that great things take time,” Stoney said. “…This project is not only the largest economic development project in the city’s history, but also the largest economic empowerment project in our city’s history.”

The Navy Hill Development project is the largest economic project in Richmond's history...
The Navy Hill Development project is the largest economic project in Richmond's history (Source: NHDC)(NHDC)

As part of the plan, Stoney said the city and its taxpayers will not be held financially responsible for the $1.5 billion development costs which spans across 10 blocks in downtown Richmond, from 5th to 10th streets, and from Marshall to Leigh Streets.

“What we’ve been able to add since November, are unprecedented protections for the city and our taxpayers, which makes this project a safe and responsible investment for Richmond,” Stoney said.

Instead, the project will largely be financed from private investors. Additionally, new tax revenue generated from the project, including the incremental growth in real estate taxes throughout the incremental financing area, will be used to pay for the new $235 million arena.

“If the new tax revenues are insufficient to cover the cost of the arena, the bond investors – not the city – will bear the financial risk,” a city news release stated.

“Sixty-percent of that land does not generate any tax revenues for the city,” Stoney said. “For me, this just reinforces why it's our responsibility to ensure the land we do have is generating revenue that we can use to address our needs."

However, longtime Stoney opponent Paul Goldman claims the project is “putting the city’s financial future more at risk.”

At a news conference held July 18, Goldman announced he had collected roughly 14,400 signatures in order to put referendum question on the ballot over the issue.

City spokesperson Jim Nolan said in a statement, “The mayor is opposed to this ballot initiative. It doesn’t accomplish anything new and would only impede the city’s ability to work directly with our communities to make this a deal that works for all Richmonders.”

"Now is the time for the public to see for themselves how this will benefit all Richmonders," Stoney said Thursday. "… This project will redevelop significant portions of the city's underutilized property downtown, and turn valuable land that costs us today into properties that generate revenue tomorrow."

One of those noticeable properties is the shuttered Richmond Coliseum, which Stoney claims is costing them $1 million per year.

“They need to fix the old Coliseum up and make it better,” Richmond resident John Young said.

"If they were to do a modern look, it wouldn’t be a bad idea,” Alex Broady, another Richmond resident, said.

Stoney said Richmond has lost revenue and jobs for various events to Washington, D.C., Raleigh, Charlotte, Charlottesville, and even Virginia Beach.

"It's time to give our city and its residents a venue they deserve and the economic opportunities that come with it," Stoney said.

Again, the new arena would be financed through the Economic Development Authority issuing a non-recourse. That bond will be paid back through the increment taxes that are generated by 60 percent of the property in the incremental financing area that’s currently tax exempt, such as the Commonwealth of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University.

The new arena would still be owned by the city, along with the Blues Armory, but would be managed by NHDC. Any sort of shortfall will be solely NHDC’s responsibility, according to Stoney.

The historic Blues Armory will also be restored, which Stoney said will include, “a food hall, event space and ballroom that will be utilized by the new hotel.”

Stoney added the restoration of the Armory will be financed through private investment, which is different from what was originally proposed in November.

Rendering of the new GRTC transit center (Source: NHDC)
Rendering of the new GRTC transit center (Source: NHDC)(NHDC)

The project also includes a brand new sheltered GRTC transit center, which is said to enhance customer service experience.

“It would be good for people so they don’t have to get wet,” Young said.

“We look forward to a permanent transit facility downtown for our customers and employees to provide safe, sheltered and convenient connections between buses,” interim CEO of GRTC Sheryl Adams said.

A new 541-room luxury hotel with event space, retail and commercial opportunities will also be built in hopes of attracting more visitors to the area.

“[The tourism industry] estimates we have lost more than 31,000 lodging nights over the last five years to cities that have more capacity,” Stoney said.

“This is a game-changer for our destination,” Jack Berry, President and CEO of Richmond Region Tourism, said. “This will put our convention and tourism industry on a larger national platform."

Apartments are part of the project plan as well hoping to keep people in the area where they work.

"In addition to 2,000 market rate units, this project will also build hundreds of units of affordable housing," Stoney said.

Projections for the development anticipate a $1 billion surplus over 30 years, which would go towards the following:

  • 50% - to support Richmond Public Schools ($500 million)
  • 34% - for investments in public safety, public works and other core City services ($340 million)
  • 15% - to support housing opportunities and homeless services ($150 million)
  • 1% - for art, history and culture opportunities ($1 million)

"Richmond is a city on the rise," Stoney said.

Over the next few weeks NHDC and Capital City Partners will host a series of public outreach and engagement opportunities with city residents.

NHDC has set up a website to share information and answer questions about the project, which can be accessed here.

The groups are also interested in speaking with anyone who would like to work on this project.

Stoney said the negotiated agreement requires that significant private investments are on track before the city moves forward with the sale of any bonds.

“Navy Hill must show that $900 million in private investment has been programmed,” a news release stated, before any construction on the new buildings begin.

The project could take up to five years to complete with city council approval.

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