Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration must release a portion of the $1.4 billion Coliseum redevelopment plan and a trove of other documents to one of the mayor’s most persistent critics at no charge, a Richmond judge said Wednesday.
Paul Goldman, a frequent political adversary of the mayor’s, earlier this month sued for the release of documents pertaining to the proposal that the Stoney administration has fought to keep secret.
The ruling by Richmond Circuit Judge Melvin Hughes could bring to light new information about the plans to redevelop 21 acres of publicly owned downtown real estate around a new arena.
“Obviously I feel it was the right decision,” Goldman said after the 90-minute hearing.
The case stemmed from two Freedom of Information Act requests Goldman filed this spring: One sought a section laying out the legal structure of NH District Corp., the private group led by Dominion Energy CEO Thomas F. Farrell II that submitted the plans. The other request centered on communications between lawyers and a public relations firm working for NH District Corp. and certain city departments that have played a role in the negotiations.
The Stoney administration denied Goldman’s first request, citing a provision in the state’s open record law that allows public bodies to withhold documents that could hurt their bargaining position.
The administration told Goldman providing the 2,643 documents responsive to his second request would cost $2,018 — $1,749 more than it charged the Richmond Times-Dispatch for providing the same documents in response to a separate request filed by the newspaper last year.
Hughes rejected both of the administration’s arguments, saying the city had not provided any evidence to justify withholding the information pertaining to the first request. Hughes also said Goldman was entitled to the information he requested from the city that it had previously given the newspaper.
Richard E. Hill Jr., a lawyer representing the Stoney administration, said the city had originally given the documents to The Times-Dispatch in error.
The discrepancy between what the newspaper paid — $269 — and what the city told Goldman it would cost to provide the same documents was 88 hours of staff time the Stoney administration determined was necessary before it would release them.
“They were not adequately vetted … and therefore they would need to be reviewed again in order to provide them to Goldman,” Hill said.
“Shouldn’t you have done that when you gave it to the newspaper?” Hughes asked.
“Yes,” Hill said.
Goldman cast the discrepancy in the estimates as “discriminatory” and suggested the Stoney administration slapped him with a large fee because he has been a vocal skeptic of the project. He asked the newspaper to give him the documents in question; the Richmond Times-Dispatch declined, citing a policy it has not to provide unpublished materials.
Stoney announced he was moving forward with the plans at a downtown news conference nearly seven months ago. His administration has said negotiations, which began more than 11 months ago, remain ongoing.
NH District Corp.’s plans call for a 17,500-seat arena that would replace the Richmond Coliseum; a 527-room high-rise hotel; more than 3,000 apartments, with 680 reserved for people earning less than the region’s median income; 790,000 square feet of office space; 275,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space; a $10 million renovation of the Blues Armory; and space for a new transfer plaza for GRTC Transit System bus riders. The plans also include infrastructure improvements in the roughly 10-block area north of Broad Street where the development would rise.
Stoney has said the project will create 21,000 jobs, including 9,000 after construction is completed, and provide more than $300 million in business for minority-owned contractors. He has touted a report by a consultant his administration hired that estimates the project could generate $1.2 billion in tax revenue beyond what is necessary to pay for it over 30 years.
Since announcing his support, Stoney has refused to release the full proposal. Late last year, his administration fought a separate legal challenge stemming from a FOIA request for the proposal. The city said releasing it would hurt its bargaining position. A Richmond General District Court judge ruled in the city’s favor. The resident who brought the challenge is appealing the decision.
Hill, the city’s lawyer, cited the prior decision to justify why the city withheld the section pertaining to NH District’s legal structure that Goldman requested.
Goldman objected, saying his request was far narrower and couldn’t possibly “adversely affect” negotiations between the two sides because both had already publicly acknowledged information the section will purportedly bear out.
Goldman is a former law partner of one of Stoney’s opponents in the 2016 mayoral race: Joe Morrissey, who has served as a delegate and as Richmond commonwealth’s attorney. Goldman is also a former adviser to one of Stoney’s predecessors, L. Douglas Wilder.
Goldman said he expected the Stoney administration to appeal Hughes’ decision.
“They can’t win an appeal,” he said. “They have no evidence.”
Hill declined to comment after Wednesday’s decision.
Stoney spokesman Jim Nolan said: “This is an ongoing legal matter and the city does not comment on active litigation.”