The wait is almost over.
Richmond Mayor Stoney announced Thursday that he will introduce the now-$1.5 billion proposal to replace the Richmond Coliseum and reshape a large chunk of downtown at a special meeting of the City Council on Monday.
His announcement came 274 days after the mayor pledged support for the project at a news conference last fall, where he endorsed what could be the biggest economic development project in Richmond history.
Then came silence — nine months’ worth. Stoney was mum about the project publicly, saying only that his administration remained in negotiations with NH District Corp., a private group led by Dominion Energy CEO Thomas F. Farrell II that submitted the only proposal to build a new arena and redevelop 21 acres of publicly owned downtown real estate north of Broad Street. The two sides negotiated the plans for 17 months.
“Though we had extensive and often trying negotiations, we did not waver from our commitment to make sure this project encompassed groundbreaking economic opportunities,” Stoney said during a news conference Thursday at City Hall.
Farrell disputed the idea that the project had stalled at any point. He said in an interview that the scope of the proposal led to the delay, not any one sticking point between his group and Stoney’s administration.
“It was just a very thorough, thoughtful, exhaustive negotiation,” Farrell said. “The mayor had a vision. We share the vision. We want to help him succeed and bring these goals to the city, and we still need to be able to finance the project.”
NH District Corp. had publicly indicated interest in redeveloping the area months before Stoney announced a request for proposals in November 2017.
The group’s proposal calls for a 17,500-seat arena that would replace the Richmond Coliseum and become the largest arena in the state; a high-rise hotel with at least 525 rooms; 2,500 apartments, with 480 reserved for people earning less than the region’s median income of about $83,000 for a family of four; 1 million square feet of commercial and office space; 260,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space; a $10 million renovation of the Blues Armory; a new transfer plaza for GRTC bus riders; and infrastructure improvements aimed at making the area easier to navigate for pedestrians and cyclists.
The project previously was pegged as costing $1.4 billion. An NH District spokesperson attributed the increase to time and changes in market conditions.
The public portion of the project would be largely underwritten by the creation of the city’s first tax-increment financing district.
Establishing the zone, also called a TIF, would divert new tax revenue from growing real estate assessments or new construction within its bounds to pay down bonds for the arena and infrastructure improvements in a roughly 10-block area north of Broad Street where the project would rise.
The Stoney administration wants the zone to encompass an area eight times larger to capture more new tax revenue, including taxes from a new office tower Dominion built downtown, as well as a second tower for which it has submitted plans to the city. Farrell declined to say Thursday whether the utility company had decided to build the second tower.
The special tax zone will be bounded by First Street, Interstate 95/64, 10th Street and the Downtown Expressway. Stoney said he is proposing a start date of this past July 1. If the project is approved, taxes from any new construction in the area from that point on would pay down the city’s cost for doing the project over a 30-year period.
Last month, the council approved sweeping zoning changes for Monroe Ward, meant to spur investment in the area that is dominated by surface parking lots. Monroe Ward is included in the TIF, so taxes from any new development there would help pay for the project if approved.
In a change from what was originally proposed, Stoney said NH District Corp. would pay for a $10 million renovation planned for the Blues Armory. The historic structure would become a food hall and house a ballroom that the adjacent hotel would use.
In another change, Stoney said the city’s Department of Social Services will remain in its current location at Marshall Plaza for the short term.
Last fall, his administration told council members that the department would be relocated to a vacant building owned by Philip Morris near the Chesterfield County line. That plan drew sharp criticism because of the building’s distance from downtown.
Stoney said NH District Corp. is responsible for finding a “suitable” home for the department, but the city will be under “no obligation” to relocate it if the group fails to do so.
The plans Stoney will put before the council will have fewer apartments than what he announced last November, dropping from 3,000 to 2,500. The number of units reserved for people making less than the area median income has also decreased, from 680 to 480, though Stoney said his administration would use new tax revenues from the development to build “hundreds” more across the city.
The project is expected to create 12,500 jobs during construction and 9,300 permanent jobs once completed, Stoney said, citing figures from a study NH District Corp. commissioned by the Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Urban and Regional Analysis. It would generate $300 million worth of business reserved for minority-owned contracting firms. NH District Corp. will work with the city’s Office of Community Wealth Building to hold job fairs in each council district to fill the positions, Stoney said.
The mayor also touted the projected $1 billion in tax revenue the development could generate roughly five years from the time it is approved. His administration committed last fall to direct half of that money to Richmond Public Schools and the rest to increasing the city’s affordable housing stock, improving the city’s core services and installing more public art.
The City Council will vet the plans and must sign off on them if the project is to move forward.
The council will hold a special meeting at noon Monday, when Stoney will formally introduce the package of ordinances advancing the project.
The original proposal NH District Corp. submitted also will be made publicly available on the city’s website, Stoney said.
The council last year formed a citizen advisory commission to review the plans and issue a report on its findings. The commission’s work is expected to take three months and would defer a council vote on the project until later this year.
Said Stoney: “Everyone will have the chance to kick the tires, as we have.”