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City officials select developer for Diamond District

A render of RVA Diamond Partners' planned first phase of development for the Diamond District.
A render of RVA Diamond Partners' planned first phase of development for the Diamond District. (Photo from City Council documents)

City officials introduced legislation selecting a company for a major redevelopment project in central Richmond Monday.

RVA Diamond Partners LLC, a consortium of groups including locally based Thalhimer Realty Partners and Southside Community Development, would be tasked with redeveloping nearly 67 acres of publicly owned land centered on The Diamond baseball stadium if the resolution passes through the council.  

Ballpark Digest, a trade publication, called the efforts to replace The Diamond “certainly the longest-running MiLB ballpark saga we’ve been following.” The redevelopment project dates back to a 2016 memorandum of understanding between Virginia Commonwealth University and the Richmond Flying Squirrels, a AA Minor League Baseball team. But calls to replace The Diamond stretch back several more years; inaction contributed to the 2008 departure of AAA Minor League Baseball team Richmond Braves to Gwinnett County, Georgia.

“Let me be clear, there is nothing minor league about any of this. This is a major league investment in the people of Richmond,” Mayor Levar Stoney said Tuesday in a press conference about the selection. “We're talking about $2.4 billion of investment in our city. Richmonders will live here, Richmonders will work here, and Richmonders will play right here in the Diamond District.”

Fifteen groups responded to a Request For Interest on the project issued by the city in December 2021. By May, the city selected three finalists before eliminating one in August. 

The project faces a bit of a time crunch: In order for the Flying Squirrels to participate in the 2025 season, they must have a new stadium by opening day in April of that year. The new baseball stadium will be in the southwest corner of the Diamond District site, “at the edge of Ashe Boulevard and the CSX rail line,” according to documents outlining the project proposal. 

Requiring a minimum of $627.6 million in capital investment, the first phase of the project would be financed using tax dollars collected in the redeveloped district. 

Richmond’s head of economic development, Leonard Sledge, said only the area inside the redeveloped area would pay for the project. 

“The new revenues that are generated as a result of the private development and the activities in the stadium will be the dollars and cents to pay debt service for this project. The developer will have a special assessment if, for whatever reason, the revenues are not sufficient to cover that debt service,” he said at the Tuesday press conference. That special assessment obligates the developers or other landowners to pay debts if tax revenues fall short.

In a press release, the city described the proposal as providing “a master plan approach to creating a strong sense of place with a balance of open space, walkable blocks, and a mixed-use, mixed-income development program that celebrates the baseball stadium as an important anchor and honors the legacy of Arthur Ashe, Jr.” 

The first phase of the project would contain at least 1,134 rental units, 20% or more of which would have an affordable housing component, including units subsidized by project-based vouchers. 

“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,” Stoney said in a statement Monday.

In the RFI, the city said that an ideal project would “honor Arthur Ashe’s legacy.” City officials also introduced a resolution signaling that youth extracurricular activities should continue in the area near the development.  

The resolution put forth by the mayor and members of the City Council on Monday includes parameters for labor union participation and construction practices with the redevelopment. 

Contractors would need to pay workers at least $16.50 per hour or the prevailing wage rate. The resolution aims for 40% of construction man-hours to be filled by union personnel on publicly financed portions of the project and 25% for privately financed portion. 

One of the defining visual characteristics of the project is 11 acres of open space. 

“It's open to the public, it will have a number of different features involved. But we want everyone at all from every part of the city, heck, from outside the city, to come and enjoy the park within the Diamond District,” Stoney said. 

City officials said whether the park would be owned by the city still needs to be worked out, but entry to the area would be free of charge. 

An in-person meeting will be held Sept. 14 on the project, and the City Council will first discuss it officially on Sept. 15 in the Finance and Economic Development Committee.

The resolution could be voted on as early as the council’s Sept. 26 meeting. After that, legislation around the tax district and the transfer of property would come in the fall.

“We're working as aggressively as we can to get those legal documents drafted to be ready for introduction to City Council,” Sledge said. 

Stoney was buoyant at the Tuesday press conference. Two major economic development schemes have been defeated in recent years: another stadium project in Navy Hill and a casino project in South Richmond. 

“You’re damn right I feel very encouraged about this one,” he said. “We're going to go through the process. But I do feel encouraged. And I believe it's because of the hard work of the economic development team.”