Richmond City Council moves vote on ballot question over new arena, downtown development to Wednesday

Debate over new Coliseum ballot question

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The Richmond City Council pushed back a vote on whether to allow a November ballot question on the mayor’s new arena and downtown re-development proposal, Tuesday. City Council will now vote Wednesday, at 6 p.m. at the Richmond Police Academy along Graham Road, after a public hearing on the issue.

City Council had to first vote in a special meeting Tuesday, on whether to expedite Councilwoman Reva Trammell’s resolution to put a referendum question on the Nov. 5 ballot. The question would allow voters to say whether or not they support the mayor’s proposed downtown redevelopment.

Six of the nine council members needed to vote in favor of expediting the resolution, in order for it to move forward in that same meeting. Only five supported taking the vote. So, the vote will be taken up Wednesday, 24 hours later, when the council is allowed to revisit the issue.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney says private investors are paying for the $1.5 billion project, except the arena. Stoney’s administration says future tax dollars generated by the new development will pay back investors for the arena, which the city would own. The rest of the projected billion dollars in new tax revenue would pay for things like schools, roads and other city needs.

City Council members appear to be divided on the project so far, which includes a new hotel, apartments, commercial and retail space, Blues Armory renovation and bus stop. Trammell believes public tax dollars shouldn’t be drained for a project involving private interests.

“We have let the citizens down too much, from Redskins to the 6th Street Market, to other things. It’s not right,” said Trammell.

Councilman Andreas Addison said he only received the resolution for a ballot question last night, and felt it didn’t give the full scope of the project.

“(The resolution) is one person’s viewpoint on what we think the question should be posed to the public. I haven’t had a chance to really vet that in terms of public dialogue or process. I was only asked today whether I wanted to expedite it, and my answer was no," said Addison.

Stoney said he believes the City Council should stick to its plan already in place.

"I'm in support of the City Council actually following through on their established procedure and their established process. And that is the 90-day commission that will be open to the public to actually chime in. They established it with a 9-0 vote."

An independent commission of citizens and experts will collect insight from the public and other sources, and give City Council a recommendation three months from now.

Stoney also questioned how many of the council members, who seemingly don’t support of the project so far, have finished completely vetting it.

“My question first is - have they read the proposal?” said Stoney. “I know it’s 900 pages… So have they taken the time to do their jobs and read the proposal and actually ask the questions? I don’t think any of that has occurred.”

It’s been eight days since Stoney’s proposal was formally introduced, after nearly two years of creating the plan behind closed doors.

If the City Council votes to put a referendum question on the ballot, it would only be an ‘advisory’ question. The City Council would still have the ultimate vote on the project.

However, if the public votes largely against the project, it might dissuade council members from voting for it, having to vote against the majority of public opinion.

NH District Corp., which represents the private investors in the project, released the following statement:

"We support the people of Richmond. Over the past year, we’ve heard directly from them that they want to our city to have more jobs, more affordable housing, better transit, and more minority-owned businesses in our downtown. And they want this done without raising taxes, without diverting any money away from the City’s general fund, and without leaving taxpayers or the City on the hook. Which is exactly what we’re proposing.

It’s disappointing that the Council is trying to circumvent the very process that they, themselves created because a few Richmond outsiders are telling them what to do. We’ll keep listening to the people of Richmond as this project moves forward and urge the Council to do their job and their own due diligence."

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