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City Council To Take Up Completed Coliseum Deal On Monday

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, right, at a press conference on Thursday
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, right, at a press conference on Thursday

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced on Thursday that he’s finalized a $1.5 billion deal to redevelop the Richmond Coliseum and the surrounding blocks. The deal is set to be released to City Council in a special meeting on Monday.

Thursday’s announcement comes over nine months after Stoney said he’d worked out a tentative deal with the developers, the Navy Hill District Corporation.

Stoney began his address with a nod to the delay, saying that “great things take time.”

The deal he outlined on Thursday still includes plans for a new arena, new GRTC transit center, office space, Hyatt hotel, and more than 2,500 new units of housing.

It also keeps the Department of Social Services in place while developers find it what Stoney called a “suitable” home. A later press release said the relocated DSS would be downtown; if NH District Corp. fails to find a location, DSS is under no obligation to leave.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported in November that the administration was considering relocating DSS to a South Richmond site about six miles from its current downtown location, a plan that received immediate blowback from activists.

In another shift from the previously announced plans, a redevelopment of the Blues Armory will now solely use private investment, rather than tapping into the tax increment financing (TIF) that will fund the arena and other elements of the project.

The development is taking shape in what was once a thriving African American neighborhood of Navy Hill. It was cleared by city planners in the 1950s and 60s to make way for the Coliseum and Interstate 64.

Stoney’s plan still faces significant obstacles. The Navy Hill Redevelopment Commission, a body set up by City Council, still has to review the plan. Stoney encouraged them and other members of the public to “kick the tires” on the project.

And local activist attorney -- and Stoney critic -- Paul Goldman is pushing a referendum that could threaten the plan’s financing scheme if voters approve it in November. Goldman’s referendum would steer incremental tax revenues that finance the scheme towards schools rather than the project.

Stoney dismissed that effort as a distraction.

“This project’s moving forward either way,” he said. “I don’t have time to worry about political stunts.”

In a Facebook post, Goldman called the announcement the “latest Stoney phony Coliseum Baloney” and said the project would jeopardize the city’s financial health.

“He doesn’t like me pointing out the truth,” Goldman said in an interview. “I don’t expect a Christmas card.”

Dominion Energy CEO Tom Farrell, who has spearheaded the development but says he would not personally profit from it, said the project would revitalize central Richmond.

“Richmonders deserve a much better downtown than we have,” Farrell said. “All over the country, people are moving back into downtowns. They want to live an urban lifestyle. And we don't have a lot of the amenities that are necessary for that.”

A newly completed downtown Dominion tower and a proposed second building fall within the proposed TIF district announced last year, leading critics to suggest Farrell is using taxes generated from the building -- which would otherwise go to city coffers -- to fund the Navy Hill development.

Farrell said on Thursday there be “more to come” on the status of the second tower.