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Attempt at Referendum on Richmond Arena Development Project Falls Short

Richmond Coliseum redevelopment rendering

An attempt to hold an advisory referendum on the public funding portion of a proposal that includes a new Richmond arena fell short, failing to gain enough city council support.

NH District Corp–a group led by Dominion Energy CEO Thomas F. Farrell II–is proposing a $1.5-billion redevelopment of a roughly 10-block area in downtown Richmond that includes the Richmond Coliseum site. Current plans call for the construction of a new 17,500-seat arena, which would be surrounded by a slate of amenities that includes a high-rise hotel, a renovated Blues Armory, 1-million square feet of commercial and office space, 260,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space, 2,500 apartments, and more. The new arena would be owned by the Richmond Economic Development Authority (EDA), with NH District to handle operations and maintenance as part of a lease agreement.

The Richmond City Council was weighing whether to hold an advisory referendum in November, which would ask voters if city revenues should be leveraged to pay off bonds for the public component of the initiative, including the new arena. At a special meeting on Wednesday, the council voted down the measure in a 5-3 decision (with one abstention), effectively halting the push for an advisory referendum ahead of a crucial Friday deadline. The council is planning other measures as it reviews the development proposal, including an advisory commission and a third-party consultant. More

At the second of two back-to-back special meetings called this week in an attempt to beat a Friday deadline, council voted 5-3, with one abstention, against putting an advisory referendum on the Nov. 5 ballot that would have asked voters’ opinion on whether city revenues should be used to pay off bonds that would fund the arena portion of the $1.5 billion project.

Vice President Chris Hilbert, who the day before voted in favor of considering an expedited vote on the referendum but spoke against the concept, joined Andreas Addison, Michael Jones, Ellen Robertson and President Cynthia Newbille in voting down the referendum at Wednesday’s meeting.

Kim Gray and Reva Trammel, who introduced the resolution, voted in favor along with Kristen Larsen, while Parker Agelasto abstained from voting….

Newbille, who noted council’s other plans to have an advisory commission and a third-party consultant review the proposal, contended that a referendum on top of that was not needed. She said a request for proposals for the consultant went out this week, while chairpersons for the commission are to be sworn in Friday.

Since the referendum would have been advisory, the council would not have been legally required to follow the result when the time came to make a decision on the project. Should the proposed development move forward, it would result in the demolition of Richmond Coliseum, which first opened in 1971. The proposed scope of the new arena positions it to the largest of its kind in the state of Virginia, and it could be a draw for events such as concerts, sports tournaments, and more.

Rendering courtesy NH District Corp.

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