Thanks to some excellent digging by The Times-Dispatch newsroom, with a little help from the Freedom of Information Act, Richmonders have a more detailed idea about plans to replace the city’s aging Coliseum and revitalize the neighborhood around it. On Sunday, RTD reporter Mark Robinson outlined an ambitious project under consideration by the city to build a $220 million, 17,500-seat arena. The building would up Richmond’s profile for concerts and sporting events — without tapping the city’s revenue or debt capacity.
Just as important, the new arena would serve as a catalyst for private development in the blocks surrounding the 47-year-old Coliseum — an area that is largely an urban wasteland today. Much of the land is city-owned and provides minimal tax revenue. The idea — and it’s a sound one, though certainly not risk-free — is to pay the debt service on the arena using tax revenue generated by nearby private development, which would include a hotel as well as commercial, retail, and residential space.
It’s a bold and well-conceived plan for an area in the heart of downtown that has been in decline for far too long. And it’s hard to think of any past project in the city that presents as much opportunity as does this one — for lifestyle enhancement, job creation, and attractive affordable urban housing. We are encouraged by the imagination, original thinking, and careful preparation that has marked the planning stages. That includes an innovative idea about using future revenue from the new Dominion tower a few blocks away as potential source of revenue to finance the arena — as a means to make the financing package more attractive to investors.
Except for the construction of the arena and the refurbishment of the historic city-owned Blues Armory, all development will be financed by private companies. Bondholders will bear the risk for the public construction costs.
The nonprofit organization that’s leading the way — NH District Corp., headed by Dominion CEO Tom Farrell — deserves credit for laying a credible foundation for an exciting large-scale project, as does Mayor Levar Stoney, for setting the process in motion. The developer and the mayor now have to negotiate the details to ensure the city’s finances and taxpayers are adequately protected as they work to revive a badly neglected part of the city.