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Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)

Efforts to resurrect the plan for a new baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom got a boost Wednesday as a group of Shockoe business owners and residents held a news conference calling for the project to move forward.

About 30 people stood behind a podium in front of C'est Le Vin wine bar on North 17th Street as neighborhood leader David Napier said the project would be a boon to the Shockoe area.

"If you don't want to understand it, you can always say it's too complicated for me to understand," said Napier, president of the Shockoe Bottom Neighborhood Association. "But I think we've got smart-enough people on council that most of them will feel comfortable with this project once it's fully presented to them."

Five of nine City Council members have said they oppose the ballpark plan, but Mayor Dwight C. Jones has indicated that he intends to bring it back at some point in the future. It's unclear when that will happen, and whether the council would react differently once the complicated development plan is finalized.

At Monday's council meeting, several opponents of the stadium plan urged the five skeptics to stand firm. Former councilman Marty Jewell, a vocal critic of the mayor's plan, asked the council to "put a stake in its heart."

On Wednesday, Napier suggested the opposition's volume has drowned out the support.

"There's a lot more support for this than you read in the media," said Napier, who owns a catering company based in the Bottom. "Unfortunately, no is always louder than yes."

The mayor's plan, revealed in November, would involve building a stadium for the Richmond Flying Squirrels, a grocery store, a hotel, apartments, office space, a parking deck and historical pavilion at Lumpkin's Jail.

Napier and other speakers characterized the plan as a job-producing, poverty-fighting economic development proposal with the added benefit of paying tribute to Shockoe's history as a slave-trading hub.

Juan Braxton, the owner of Aqua Lounge and former operator of Have a Nice Day Cafe, said it's "embarrassing" to not have a proper showcase for the city's slave history.

"We really don't have an outlet to tell those stories," Braxton said. "I think we need to find a way to make things work and not always have this frame of mind of 'We don't like it and it's not going to work.'"

Tovah Garnett, a Shockoe resident, called it "mind-boggling" that the project doesn't have more support.

"My friends that live out in the counties, they won't come down and visit me," Garnett said. "They don't believe it's a safe place. As a resident here, I can vouch for this area. And this area needs this."

Dirk Graham, the owner of Bottoms Up Pizza, said he runs a restaurant geared toward families, and the area needs more family-friendly attractions.

"Over the years I've seen this area grow and grow and it's magnificent right now, but I feel that it would be so much better with this development," Graham said. "It would be the icing on the cake. The crown jewel."

Though the development plan has been widely supported by the business community, there has been strong public opposition that did not wane in the months following the mayor's announcement.

Critics of the $79.6 million stadium have characterized it as a potential drain on taxpayer dollars based on uncertain projections that the project will generate enough tax revenue to pay for itself. The most vocal criticism has come from activists who believe a sports facility near a site of profound suffering would be disrespectful to black history.

For some council members, the Jones administration simply hasn't provided the necessary details, and several elements -- even the land the city would need to buy -- were still unsettled many months after the plan was presented.

Tammy D. Hawley, the mayor's press secretary, said Wednesday that "all of the pieces are coming together," but no date has been set for a presentation to the council. The administration did not introduce a revised plan at Monday's meeting.

Napier pushed back on the notion that the process has lacked transparency.

"It was too transparent in some people's minds," Napier said. "Every time anything happened, it was put out there all through this process."

Napier said the council was right to expect to hear all the details before making a decision.

"It is a complicated situation," Napier said. "It's not a flat field out in the suburbs where you can just draw a picture and have an architect build it."

A media advisory announcing Wednesday's event listed Napier's contact information, but identified David White as the president of the neighborhood association. That's the name of one of the developers involved in building the apartments around the proposed stadium.

Napier, whose company is named White House Catering, explained by saying that a public relations firm had helped with the logistics of the news conference. He also said that Brian White, David White's son, had helped out by providing the podium.

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June 13, 2014




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