The project calls for the opening of a new baseball stadium by 2025 and a master plan that includes an 11-acre signature park and mixed-use, mixed-income development on nearly 70 acres of public property where The Diamond is located between Arthur Ashe Boulevard and Hermitage Road.
“This proposal meets our goals to equitably revitalize an underdeveloped part of our city and maximize its potential to enhance the quality of life for all Richmonders,” Mayor Levar Stoney said in a news release announcing the pending partnership.
“Commitments to affordable housing, minority business engagement, publicly accessible open space and a new ballpark mean that the Diamond District will be enjoyed by, built by, and benefit all residents of our city.”
“The Diamond District has long been a diamond in the rough. I look forward to seeing it shine.”
RVA Diamond Partners is led by Thalhimer Realty Partners, Washington-based Republic Properties Corp. and Loop Capital of Chicago.
Though the city is expected to partner with the development team, the City Council must first pass a resolution this month to begin finalizing contracts for the project. A copy of the resolution introduced at the City Council meeting Monday night was not immediately available.
According to a city news release, the developer will begin the design phase for the baseball stadium as soon as possible with a “commitment to purchase the first $20 million of bonds” to finance its construction.
Other elements of the proposed deal include reserving one-fifth of rental and for-sale housing units for households making less than 60% of the area median income; providing $1 million for a fund to assist home buyers with closing costs; and a 45% minority-business ownership goal.
“RVA Diamond Partners is thrilled to be selected to develop the Diamond District. Our plan features an exciting new ballpark for the Flying Squirrels and VCU, an 11-acre public park and an overall vision that creates a dynamic and inclusive mixed-use urban community,” said Jason Guillot, of Thalhimer Realty Partners.
“Our plan provides important community benefits for all Richmond residents while serving as an iconic gateway for visitors to our great city.”
The entire project is expected to develop over several phases, but local officials say the replacement of The Diamond is most urgent as the Double-A Flying Squirrels baseball team says it needs a new home by 2025 to meet Major League Baseball facility standards.
“The Richmond Flying Squirrels are proud to be an anchor tenant of this proposed revitalization and development of the Diamond District, a natural extension of the growth of our beloved hometown,” said Lou Dibella, president and general manager of the Flying Squirrels. “The Squirrels will be the most well-known neighbors in a new, diverse and dynamic neighborhood. We commit to being a great neighbor and to making memories together for decades to come.”
A panel of local officials selected the development team in a process that started last winter with 15 submissions in response to a city solicitation.
The evaluation panel included Richmond Chief Administrative Officer Lincoln Saunders; Department of Economic Development Director Leonard Sledge; City Council members Katherine Jordan and Ann-Frances Lambert; Virginia Commonwealth University Senior Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer Karol Kain Gray; and other city department leaders.
Jordan, who represents the area where the stadium is located, said it was difficult for the panel to reach its conclusion as developers had submitted competitive proposals.
“The design we chose has many winning attributes and will create a neighborhood with its own Richmond identity anchored by a multi-tenant stadium and a major, new public park. This project brings new revenue; new jobs; new housing; and a new, major public park — all anchored by a first-class Richmond ballpark for our beloved Squirrels and Rams,” she said.
The city’s vision for the project includes the demolition of the Arthur Ashe Jr. Athletic Center and Sports Backers Stadium. Virginia Commonwealth University is planning to replace the latter with a new athletics village across Hermitage Road at the former Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control warehouse property.
“We have worked tirelessly over the last six years to bring this vision to fruition, and we have landed on the cusp of that goal,” Ed McLaughlin, vice president and director of athletics for VCU, said in a city news release. “Our student-athletes, university and the entire Richmond community will benefit greatly from the amazing facilities that our Athletic Village will provide along with the new ballpark as part of the Diamond District and this transformational project.”
City officials did not immediately say what will happen to the Ashe Center in the developer’s plans, but have said it would likely be part of a later development phase, and that its functions for local public school students could be relocated to another city-owned property or VCU site.
As the project involves the transfer of city-owned property, seven of the nine city council members must vote for it to pass.
Though many local officials spoke positively about the project through the city’s news release, 8th District Councilwoman Reva Trammell took issue with the project Monday night, alleging that RVA Diamond Partners associates and city officials have neglected her constituents in South Richmond throughout the process.
“I think this is a slap in our face. I think we need to do the process all over,” she said. “We ain’t voted on it yet.”
The city will host an in-person public meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Bon Secours Training Center at 2401 W. Leigh St. to answer questions and give an overview of the selection process and project.
Local residents unable to attend the meeting will have another opportunity to ask questions and learn about the project at a “telephone town hall” meeting at 6:30 p.m. next Tuesday.