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Richmond City Council Votes Down Proposed Referendum On Coliseum Deal

Richmond City Councilwomen Kim Gray and Reva Trammell
The proposed referendum was sponsored by Richmond City Councilwomen Kim Gray (right) and Reva Trammell (left). (Photo: Roberto Roldan/VPM)

Richmond City Council voted Wednesday night against putting the $1.5 billion coliseum redevelopment deal on the November ballot. 

The vote was 5-3 against the advisory referendum, with Councilman Parker Agelasto abstaining. More than 100 residents attended the special meeting held at the Richmond Police Training Academy. Many who spoke in favor of the referendum said voting against it implied voters weren’t smart enough to understand the redevelopment deal.

City Council Vice President Chris Hilbert, who voted against the referendum, disagreed.

“It’s put upon folks that we think everyone is stupid and they can’t figure it out,” he said. “I don’t think that at all. What I think is they hired us to do a job.”

Hilbert said Richmond City Council will still move forward with nominating members to the Navy Hill Development Advisory Commission. The commission will be tasked with analyzing and vetting the project proposal, and it will have 90 days to report its findings. City Council also plans to hire a third-party firm to conduct a separate analysis.

Those who spoke against the referendum criticized council members for not having read the hundreds of pages of documents related to the redevelopment project. They also expressed concerns about giving control over the project to citizens who also haven’t read the full proposal.

“As a city resident, I don’t know that I’m going to read 900 pages,” said Lynn McAteer, a Woodland Heights resident and vice president of planning and evaluations at Better Housing Coalition. “It’s really difficult for the general citizen to read through the documents and make an informed decision if you put this to a referendum.”

Richmond Region Tourism President Jack Berry also spoke at the meeting. He questioned the effect a referendum could have on future development projects. 

“If it goes to the referendum we are concerned that it will kill this deal and will jeopardize future investment in this city,” Berry said.

The proposed referendum would have asked voters to give an up or down vote on the public financing of a new downtown arena.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has touted the plan to redevelop the coliseum and large parts of Downtown as a potential driver of new tax revenue. In addition to a new coliseum, the project includes about $900 million in private investment to create a new downtown office space, apartment buildings and a hotel. That investment would come from the developer NH District Corp. headed by Dominion CEO Tom Farrell.

For their part, the city would take out a $350 million bond to build a new arena. It would be paid by any new tax revenue generated in the Downtown area.