Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney launched an ambitious attempt Thursday to redevelop a large swath of downtown, including the replacement of the Coliseum with a new, larger arena, construction of a hotel next to the Greater Richmond Convention Center, and revitalization of the surrounding neighborhood with affordable and mixed-income housing.
“The North of Broad Downtown Redevelopment is more than a real estate project,” Stoney said during a news conference held at the City Hall observatory deck, overlooking the roughly 10-block project area.
“It’s an opportunity to help transform a major part of our city by putting underutilized and underperforming assets to work to field economic opportunity for our residents and improve their quality of life.”
At the announcement, Stoney shared details from the city’s request for proposals to redevelop the area. The goals set out in the request echo the corporate effort led by Dominion Energy CEO Thomas F. Farrell II this year to replace the Richmond Coliseum and revitalize the surrounding downtown area, but the mayor made clear the city is driving the project through an open RFP process.
“I am well aware of their ideas, but this is a city of Richmond project,” Stoney said.
Jeff Kelley, a spokesman for the group led by Farrell, said the corporate leaders are excited by the mayor’s “bold vision for the city” and support the process for soliciting proposals.
“We look forward to reviewing the RFP and a competitive process that moves the city forward,” said Kelley, who added that Farrell’s group has not submitted a proposal itself, although it previously had retained two development firms to explore options for revitalizing the area.
The area the city wants to redevelop is bounded by North Fifth Street, East Leigh Street, North 10th Street and East Marshall Street. It includes about 21 acres of publicly owned property, including the 7.3-acre site of the Coliseum.
The centerpiece — a new arena with at least 17,500 seats — would serve as a catalyst for further growth in the area, Stoney said. It would replace the dilapidated, smaller Coliseum that costs city taxpayers $1 million a year to operate.
“The existing Richmond Coliseum is a 46-year-old decaying public asset that’s becoming a public liability,” Stoney said.
The RFP stipulates that proposals must include a plan to pay off the remaining $2.9 million in debt on the existing Coliseum.
In addition to a new arena, the city’s RFP calls for a new hotel with at least 400 rooms in the vicinity to attract larger conferences and events to the Greater Richmond Convention Center and drive down room prices in downtown, inviting more tourism, Stoney said.
The RFP lays out stipulations for the redevelopment of other city-owned properties in the area. The city wants any proposal to address how to preserve and adapt the Blues Armory, a national historic landmark that represents the last remnant of the failed 6th Street Marketplace that opened with high hopes more than 30 years ago.
Stoney also wants developers to consider redeveloping the Public Safety and Social Services buildings, which he said no longer meet the needs of the city’s residents.
Councilwoman Ellen F. Robertson, who represents the area as part of the 6th District, applauded the mayor’s commitment to redeveloping those properties, which together total almost 5 acres behind City Hall between East Marshall and East Leigh streets.
The city “is willing to consider the use or reuse of any of its properties in a proposal,” states the RFP, which also advises that the social services building carries $3.2 million in outstanding debt.
The RFP also calls for the construction of a new, permanent transfer plaza for GRTC bus riders, who now must stand along North 10th Street unsheltered in foul weather, the mayor said. “They deserve a facility that treats them with dignity and respect.”
Additionally, any proposal must provide low-income, workforce and market-rate housing, and advance his administration’s poverty-reduction and job-training goals by hiring minority-owned and small contractors, Stoney said. “All of Richmond must benefit from this development, not only after it is completed but as it’s being built.”
The mayor was adamant that the city will not issue any general obligation bonds to finance the development. He cited the city’s limited debt capacity for new capital projects, and his administration’s desire to keep what little wiggle room the city has available for school construction projects and other priorities.
“We have too much to do with our schools, housing, roads and other city priorities to leverage our limited borrowing capacity for this redevelopment,” he said.
However, proposals put forth that incorporate a tax-increment financing or the establishment of a TIF district will be considered “if needed,” Stoney said.
Tax-increment financing would dedicate a portion of the additional tax value generated by redevelopment within the district to pay off bonds for the project, while generating revenues that could be applied to other public priorities, such as modernizing the city’s public school buildings.
Proposals “can suggest ways in which revenues associated with the project might be used to assist Richmond’s schools,” the RFP states.
Robertson, the district’s representative, said she would support a TIF component “if it’s integral to making the right project happen.”
“I appreciate that the benefits of (the RFP) extend beyond just the Coliseum ... with the transfer station and these other buildings that have really outlived their use and need to be redeveloped as part of the process,” Robertson said.
The deadline to submit proposals is Feb. 9, according to a timetable in the RFP.
Selection of a proposal and negotiation will take place in March and April, followed by consideration by Richmond City Council next spring, the RFP states.
Stoney and city officials are confident of significant developer interest in the redevelopment project, both locally and across the country.
“Richmond is on the national radar,” said Jane C. Ferrara, chief operating officer at the Richmond Department of Economic and Community Development.
Lee Downey, the department’s director, said the city wants to make its goals for the project clear without dictating how potential developers structure their proposals.
“We’re looking for the market to be creative, but they know our parameters,” Downey said.