Days before a deadline to divulge new information related to the $1.4 billion Richmond Coliseum redevelopment proposal, Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration has challenged a Richmond judge’s decision ordering the information’s release.
New court filings bear out the latest step Stoney has taken to keep secret any information related to the massive economic development deal that could reshape downtown. His administration has argued that its ongoing negotiations over the plans could be harmed by the release of information.
At a hearing late last month, Richmond Circuit Judge Melvin Hughes ordered the Stoney administration to hand over a section of the proposal, as well as a trove of related documents. The case stemmed from a legal challenge filed by Paul Goldman, a former head of the Democratic Party of Virginia and self-identified skeptic of the project who requested the documents originally through the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
The city previously provided the related documents to the Richmond Times-Dispatch for significantly less than what it said it would charge Goldman.
In a filing Monday, an attorney for the Stoney administration asked the court to reconsider the order or suspend it so the city can lodge an appeal with the Supreme Court of Virginia.
Stoney spokesman Jim Nolan declined to comment on the filing, saying the city does not comment on pending litigation.
Goldman said the filing made clear the city wants to keep the documents private.
“They just show absolutely no regard for the public’s right to know,” he said.
The Stoney administration originally denied Goldman’s request for a section of the development proposal containing the legal structure of NH District Corp., the private group that submitted the plans. The administration cited a provision in the state’s open records law that allows a public body to withhold documents that could “adversely affect” its negotiating strategy.
Hughes, the Richmond judge, determined that the city did not provide evidence to support the claim at last month’s hearing.
The city objected to the judge’s finding. According to the city’s filing, the fact that negotiations with NH District Corp. remain ongoing, as laid out in a statement by a city staffer that the Stoney administration offered as evidence, was sufficient to justify withholding the portion of the proposal.
The city argues that Hughes’ order conflicts with existing case law, as well as an earlier decision by a Richmond General District Court judge to allow an exemption of the proposal on the same grounds. The filing seeks to have the statement by the city staffer and a transcript of the earlier decision introduced into the record; the General District Court’s ruling is the subject of a pending appeal.
Goldman also requested emails exchanged between lawyers and a communications firm working for NH District Corp. and employees of certain city departments that have played a role in the negotiations.
The Stoney administration told Goldman that providing the 2,643 emails with NH District Corp.’s representatives would cost $2,018 — $1,749 more than it charged The Times-Dispatch for providing the same documents in response to a separate request filed by the newspaper last year.
An attorney for the city said at the hearing that the discrepancy was due to the administration not vetting the documents originally provided to the newspaper. However, he argued that the city had no obligation to give the same documents to Goldman based on its past decision alone; the city doubled down on the argument in the filing.
In his order on June 7, Hughes gave the city 10 days to give Goldman the documents after he paid a $250 fee. Goldman paid the fee on June 10.
Negotiations between the city and NH District Corp. have been ongoing for the past year. Stoney said in November that he intended to move forward with the plans by giving them to the City Council for review, but has yet to do so.
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.