By C.T. Hill and Pamela Royal
As longtime advocates for the city of Richmond, we know there is a lot of work to be done to build a more equitable and just future for our city. Education, affordable housing, workforce development and social justice advocates, like ourselves, are all looking to solve the funding and services challenges that are top of mind for our entire community.
Because of these challenges, you often hear that we can’t have better schools and a new downtown, but just one or the other. We need to shift our perspective and think beyond this “either-or” mentality.
There is a better way — one that benefits all Richmonders and generates revenue for schools and city services at the same time.
That improves our transit options and fundamentally transforms our tourism economy. That addresses historical displacement with a historic investment in affordable housing and minority workforce development and minority business participation.
The Navy Hill development project, which we support as board members of the NH Foundation, is something new for Richmond. It’s a careful, inclusive and progressive plan to create jobs and affordable housing, build a world-class arena that will transform our tourism economy, attract new business and generate surplus revenue for schools, city services, public safety and affordable housing without raising taxes.
Our plan will create opportunities for the Richmond of today, and the Richmond of tomorrow. And here’s how:
Navy Hill is rooted in private investment from investors who see the promise in revitalizing Richmond’s downtown. Most of the $1.5 billion development is no different from the construction in Scott’s Addition or Manchester.
Private investors will buy the land from Richmond (creating new money for the city) and will invest their dollars to create buildings in Navy Hill.
They get paid back when the buildings are built, open and ready for business.
Private purchase of city lands creates immediate, direct revenue that wouldn’t otherwise exist. And the taxes generated by private development creates direct revenue that wouldn’t otherwise exist. That’s direct revenue to the city, not trickle-down promises.
But this private investment also goes one step further. It creates enough tax revenue to replace the coliseum — which is costing the city money while closed — with a brand-new arena and $1 billion to fund city priorities: from Richmond Public Schools ($500 million) and city services ($340 million), to housing and homeless services ($150 million), and the arts ($10 million).
The projects of years’ past that didn’t materialize relied on money from taxpayers. In this project, taxpayers don’t pay a single cent in new taxes. No existing money is taken from the city’s general fund.
Instead, as buildings rise from within the designated area, as people move into homes within the area, as companies grow in the area and as jobs are created in the area, the value of the area will increase — and so will the tax revenue it creates.
These new tax dollars, over and above the current value — which wouldn’t otherwise exist — will be used to pay back bond holders who supported construction of the arena, which remains a public asset. And it spurs additional economic growth by contributing to city funds for schools, roads and other city services.
Unlike deals of the past, the city won’t be left on the hook — that risk stays with private investors.
Consider the alternative of doing nothing. If we do nothing, these vacant city blocks will continue to sit empty, and there won’t be $1.3 billion in private investment in our downtown.
The aging coliseum will deteriorate and tourism in our city will slip away. We won’t create new money for schools, nor will we create thousands of jobs. We would simply get to keep the empty parking lots.
We know and love this city, just like you. We believe passionately that if we come together and say yes, then we are looking at a brighter future for Richmond.
We will be sending a message to our children and grandchildren that we’re building communities where they can live, work and play for generations.