If baseball is moved off the Boulevard, the dustheap of The Diamond could give rise to a gleaming, 60-acre complex of apartments, retail stores, restaurants, entertainment and office buildings, according to visuals prepared for the city of Richmond this year that also feature photos of a Super Target store.
The renderings, obtained by the Richmond Times-Dispatch through a Freedom of Information Act request, offer the first hint of what the future may hold for the Boulevard if The Diamond is demolished and a new baseball stadium is built in Shockoe Bottom.
City officials caution that the images are purely conceptual and that specific plans for the Boulevard will take shape only after a lengthy community engagement process next year. But the renderings, which have not been presented publicly, give a sense of the scale of development the city has envisioned in order to forecast that Mayor Dwight C. Jones’s plan to move baseball to the Bottom would result in up to $187 million in new net revenue for the city over 20 years.
Odell, the design firm behind the widely seen drawings of the proposed Shockoe development, produced the Boulevard renderings as part of a 20-page presentation on how the site could be developed, dated April 9.
“I’m not aware of them being publicly shown to anyone other than our team,” said Tammy D. Hawley, press secretary to the mayor. “But we are considering sharing the various images of what the site could accommodate, just so that people could understand the concept of how much space there is to develop.”
Other documents obtained in the FOIA request show that references to big-box retail, a term often used to describe chain retailers such as Walmart and Target, were included in official projections for much of this year, but were edited out shortly before the mayor announced the economic development plan last month.
The Super Target depicted in photos accompanying the Boulevard renderings is not part of any actual plan under consideration, but Super Target sales information was factored in to an analysis of how much revenue the Boulevard redevelopment could generate.
The mayor’s Shockoe stadium plan is being presented as an opportunity to build a new home for the Richmond Flying Squirrels, properly commemorate the slave-trading history of the Bottom with a pavilion and museum, and turn the Bottom into productive real estate through floodplain improvements. But city officials also said the redevelopment of the Boulevard was a driving force because it has the most potential to boost the city’s coffers.
City officials say the Boulevard site, which sits near Interstates 64 and 95, is one of the most valuable development opportunities in the mid-Atlantic region and that a mixed-use development there could draw retail sales dollars back into the city and generate revenue that could be used to fund the school system, street improvements and public safety.
But the development potential has prompted some negative speculation about the possibility of a big-box store being built on the Boulevard, which was indeed a factor in the projections behind the plan.
In early versions of the fiscal analysis prepared for the city by financial services firm Davenport & Co., the projections referred to 332,220 square feet of “Big Box Retail” at the Boulevard regardless of whether the new ballpark was built there or in the Bottom.
Early versions of the analysis also stated that the $93 million in projected annual sales from big-box retail, which would generate roughly $2.4 million in tax revenue per year, is based on “comparable Super Target performance information.” Super Target locations offer a full-service grocery store in addition to general merchandise.
In a revised version of the analysis dated Nov. 5, three days before the mayor’s news conference, the big-box retail line had been edited to read “National/Regional/Local Retail,” but the square-footage and financial estimates remained unchanged.
The reference to sales projections being based on Super Target performance was also removed prior to the mayor’s announcement.
Hawley said the changes were meant to avoid putting a “limit on the vision,” and that no decision has been made to put big-box retail on the Boulevard.
A city-produced handout circulated at a recent town hall meeting was more declarative, describing the Boulevard plan as a “high-quality mixed-use development (not big box).”
“Our early read on it would not suggest that the community engagement process would flow in that direction,” Hawley said. “But if it did flow in that direction, we haven’t said no or yes. We don’t want to color it in any one direction.”
A separate slide in the April presentation says the renderings are based on 382,220 square feet of retail, 428,000 square feet of entertainment/retail, 960,000 square feet of office, a 35,900-square-foot conference center, 507 apartments, 541 condominiums, a 288-room hotel and 8,395 parking-garage spaces. The plan also envisions 263,700-square-foot fitness club and 174,600 square feet of medical offices as optional development on the site of Sports Backers Stadium.
Those numbers track closely with the square footage estimates used in the Davenport analysis, which predicts that the redeveloped Boulevard site could have an assessed value of $654 million to $721 million, but there are some differences, one of which is an increase in the number of parking spaces to 10,600.
City officials have said the square footage and use estimates were based on previous studies of the Boulevard and input from local developers, architects and economic development staff members. The analysis assumes that the Boulevard site would be fully built out by 2018.
Though officials have touted the projection that the Shockoe stadium option would generate more than double the new revenue than building a replacement near The Diamond by “unlocking” the full potential of the Boulevard, Hawley stressed that the site’s future is not yet decided.
“The development of the Boulevard is entirely open for interpretation,” Hawley said.
City Council members are in the process of holding several district meetings on the mayor’s development proposal. The plan is expected to come up for council consideration in late January.