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Richmond Arena Plan Still Drawing Skepticism Despite New Report

Richmond Arena rendering

Though a third-party consultant’s report gives the proposal a fairly positive review, a proposed Richmond arena development plan continues to be met with skepticism from a majority of the city council.

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 that is being eyed as a potential ECHL home, and would be designed to draw concerts and other sporting events. Among the surrounding amenities would include a 541-room Hyatt Regency, 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.

Although the project has the support of Richmond mayor Levar Stoney, it is up to the Richmond City Council to support a tax increment financing (TIF) plan that would help pay off $300 million in bonds for the public components of the initiative, including the arena. A majority of council members have not warmed to the plan thus far, and that has not seemed to change despite the release of a report by Chicago-based C.H. Johnson Consulting that finds the proposal is “written in the city’s favor” in the event of a default. While pointing out various weaknesses, the consultant–which was hired by the council–noted some positives in the proposal, including a convention center hotel that would be built without public subsidies and a thorough vetting process.

Following a committee’s review of the report on Monday, members opted in a 5-4 vote to recommend striking proposed ordinances relating to the plan from the next council meeting agenda. Stoney has no plans to withdraw the proposal, and the report will be formally presented to the council next week. More from RichmondBizSense.Com:

After reviewing the report at a committee meeting Monday, members voted 5-4 to recommend striking the project’s proposed ordinances from council’s next agenda, and to go through with their request for Mayor Levar Stoney to withdraw the entire proposal in favor of a new RFP process.

The ordinances, deferred for months in light of the third-party review, were set to come back to council at its next meeting Feb. 10. The recommendations from council’s Organizational Development Standing Committee are to be formally voted on at that meeting, while a final vote to decide the $1.5 billion project remains scheduled for council’s Feb. 24 meeting.

Stoney has said he will not withdraw the proposal, calling the request “laughable” and “irresponsible” in light of council’s insistence on a third-party review that ended up costing the city $215,000. Council first voted on the withdrawal request at its regular meeting last week, prior to receiving the report it commissioned from Chicago-based firm C.H. Johnson Consulting….

On the strengths side, the report describes Navy Hill as a “thoroughly vetted development by various outside specialty consultants.” Weaknesses listed include a lack of a specific plan for the proposed GRTC transfer center or the city’s social services department, which eventually would be relocated to make way for new buildings.

Legislation introduced last month at the state level would have effectively shrunk the TIF district used to pay off the public components of the initiative from 80 to 11 blocks, but it has since been tabled. The proposed scope of the new arena positions it to the largest of its kind in the state of Virginia.

Rendering courtesy NH District Corp.

RELATED STORIES: Richmond ECHL Team Could Play at Proposed Arena;  State Bill Could Shrink Richmond Arena TIF DistrictCommittee Raises Red Flags on Richmond Arena FinancesSpectra Tapped for Proposed Richmond Arena ManagementAttempt at Referendum on Richmond Arena Development Project Falls ShortRichmond Weighs Coliseum Redevelopment Advisory ReferendumProposed Richmond Coliseum Redevelopment UnveiledRichmond Coliseum Redevelopment Plan to be Introduced; Major Markets, Major Arena IssuesMayor Backs Richmond Coliseum Redevelopment PlanRichmond Coliseum Replacement Part of RFPTwo Firms to Consider Richmond Coliseum ReplacementNew Richmond Arena in the Works?

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