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Committee Raises Red Flags on Richmond Arena Finances

Richmond Coliseum redevelopment rendering

The finances on a proposed Richmond arena development plan are drawing concern from a committee formed by the city council, which warns of risks in the project.

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. The aging venue would be replaced by a new 17,500-seat arena in the process, while surrounding development would include 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, over 2,000 residences (condos and apartments), and more.

It is in the hands of the Richmond City Council to determine whether to back the public components of the initiative, including the new $300-million arena, with tax increment financing (TIF). To that end, the council appointed a panel to vet the proposal, and the committee’s findings are not favorable to the project, believing that it could pose a risk to funding of basic services. While a majority of committee members are concerned about the feasibility of the proposal from the city’s standpoint, the report lacks specifics in a few areas, and backers of the arena project argue that the draft report is inconclusive. More from the Richmond Times Dispatch:

The commission members were split on whether the complex financial setup on which the project relies is a “reasonable” approach to build a replacement for the Richmond Coliseum. That approach, called a tax increment financing district, would divert future real estate tax revenues from an 80-block area downtown to pay back arena bondholders….

The commission’s draft report did not contend how much the project would detract from core city services or schools. Several commission members said those costs “have not been reasonably estimated” to this point, the draft report states.

On those and other key determinations, such as whether the project’s construction schedule is realistic, the commission did not provide definitive guidance, citing disagreement among its members or a lack of information, according to the draft report.

Jeff Kelley, a spokesman for NH District Corp., called the commission’s findings inconclusive. Kelley said it did not give ample weight to information it received from the [mayor Levar] Stoney administration and the developers before reaching its recommendations.

The Navy Hill Development Advisory Commission endorsed draft recommendations Sunday, but there is still plenty of discussion to be had over the proposal, with the committee set to present the report at a council committee meeting next month. Additionally, findings from a separate consultant are expected to be released in early February, with the council possibly making its vote that month.

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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