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Bill Giving State Tax Revenue To Richmond’s Coliseum Redevelopment Fails

The bill was proposed by Delegate Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond) at the request of Mayor Levar Stoney.
The bill was proposed by Delegate Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond) at the request of Mayor Levar Stoney. (Craig Carper/VPM)

A bill in the General Assembly that would have diverted state sales tax to fund the redevelopment of the Richmond Coliseum and the surrounding neighborhood was killed in a subcommittee on Thursday.

The bill, proposed by Del. Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond), would have given about $55 million to the development project known as Navy Hill. That money could have been used to pay off a roughly $300 million loan the city wants to take out to build a new downtown arena. 

But after a majority of Richmond City Council members signed on to a resolution asking the mayor to pull the plug on the deal, Bourne says the project needed more community consensus.

“I was hopeful that there would be at least some indication from everyone that they wanted this as a tool for whatever project happens,” Bourne said. “Clearly, I haven’t received that indication.”

To pay for a new arena, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney proposed an 80-block special taxing district over downtown. New tax revenue from that area would have gone directly to paying off the redevelopment loan. A private development group called NH District Corp. also promised to build more than $1 billion in private apartments, retail and office space surrounding a new arena. 

Bourne’s bill would have allowed the city to shrink the special taxing district from 80 to 11 blocks. 

The deal has received ample pushback from activist groups, citizens and city officials. They’ve raised concerns about the negative potential impacts of state education funding for Richmond and whether there is a need for a publicly financed stadium. 

A citizen commission issued a report in December saying that a stadium or arena was not a “reasonable and sound public investment.” 

Chelsea Higgs-Wise, an activist with the progressive group Richmond For All, said she sees Thursday vote against Bourne’s bill as a win.

“It means this project is dead,” Wise said. “It means that City Council said that they don’t want it, we don’t want it, legislators don’t want it. The only people that want it are Navy Hill District Corporation.”

Jeff Kelley, a spokesperson for NH District Corp., said in a statement that the vote was not surprising after the proposed city council resolution became public and that the developer would continue to work on making the proposal “the best it can be.”

“Regardless of this outcome, we have committed to reducing the size of the increment financing area and are exploring other avenues to help us achieve that goal,” Kelley said.

Richmond City Council is expected to take a final vote on the Navy Hill deal on Feb. 24.