Richmond leaders travel to Durham to tour ballpark

Published: Jan. 8, 2014 at 9:30 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 18, 2014 at 9:30 PM EST
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DURHAM, NC (WWBT) - A road trip for Richmond city leaders Wednesday could help make a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom a reality. They traveled to Durham, North Carolina, to talk with officials there about how they were able to revitalize their minor league ballpark, and thus their entire downtown area.

You may have heard of the Durham Bulls. The team was made famous by the Hollywood blockbuster Bull Durham. Richmond officials didn't travel all the way to North Carolina just to see the ballpark, but the economic revitalization that goes along with it. The complex is about 30 acres.

Downtown Durham is a city of similar size to Richmond. Even some of the buildings might look familiar. But twenty years ago, the area looked much like the undeveloped parking lots and blocks of the current Shockoe Bottom. Wednesday, Richmond leaders learned Durham didn't come by this progress easily.

"Everything that has happened in terms of the revitalization of Downtown Durham is really started with this ballpark," Mayor Bill Bell said.

Mayor Dwight Jones hopes Richmond officials, including city council members and community business leaders, can apply the lessons they learn on this trip to his economic development proposal for The Bottom.

"We're kind of doing a similar thing," Jones told us. "There's no need in recreating the wheel. These people have done it. They've been there and they've done that."

The meeting was a virtual who's who of Durham city, business and sports leadership. Anyone who would know anything about how Durham made its project a reality was there to be questioned.

And there were questions and concerns about funding, logistics, city resources and historical preservation.

"In the research that I've done, I've also found that there are a lot of lessons that we could learn to avoid as we move our process forward," Councilman Jon Baliles, who made the trip, said.

Baliles, who says he hasn't made up his mind on Revitalize RVA, questions finances. He is concerned about both possibilities of low estimates on what funding is needed now, and if the city will be responsible for paying for improvements in the future, like Durham is right now.

Despite the questions, many of the people here considered this a fact finding mission for what the $56.2 million proposal could become.

"I don't call it a template," John Stallings of SunTrust Bank, who was a key planner in the trip, added. "I certainly think there is a great reference point."

This isn't the first trip to see ballpark-centered economic revitalization. Last year, city leaders traveled to Denver to see its stadium.

Before any decision will be made, many city council members will hold district-wide meetings. Several we spoke to say they will make their decisions based on input at those gatherings.

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