Richmond’s leading mayoral candidates are split on the issue of whether tax dollars should contribute to a new minor league baseball stadium on the Boulevard.
On Monday, Virginia Commonwealth University, the Flying Squirrels and the city jointly announced an agreement stating that the university and the minor-league team would be “major contributors” to a new stadium on the Boulevard near the Diamond’s current home. The announcement did not name a specific site on the Boulevard, where the city owns 60 acres of prime real estate, or how much each of the parties would contribute to the cost, estimated to be between $50 and $60 million.
Former Commonwealth’s Attorney and Virginia Delegate Joe Morrissey called a press conference Tuesday afternoon and circulated a statement saying he categorically opposed the use of public funds to build a stadium. Morrissey likened news of the proposition to the Washington Redskins Training Camp economic development deal to which the city agreed.
"A Morrissey Administration will break with this failed regressive policy and offer a progressive agenda where public money goes to public works like schools and city services: and where NO PUBLIC MONEY will be spent on private sector sports facilities," Morrissey stated in a release.
Morrissey, the front-runner in the field of seven candidates, took the strongest stance but isn’t the only one opposed to use of public funds to build a ballpark.
West End councilman Jon Baliles said in an interview he wouldn’t even discuss the idea of contributing to a stadium until the city settled on a fixed funding formula for Richmond Public Schools.
“I think we need to get our priorities straight, and I think we need to establish a dedicated funding stream for schools before we talk about building a baseball stadium,” Baliles said.
Others were more open to the idea. In an email, Levar Stoney’s campaign spokesman, Matt Corridoni, said the former secretary of the commonwealth “has always said he is fine with the city contributing as long as the counties pay their fair share.”
City Council President Michelle Mosby said in an interview she would consider spending as much as the city currently pays for annual maintenance of the Diamond, about $300,000, but no more than that.
“We currently pay a maintenance cost on the old Diamond, so when that’s torn down, I might consider the maintenance cost that we pay going to the new [stadium],” Mosby said.
Former Venture Richmond executive Jack Berry did not answer several phone calls Tuesday afternoon, but expressed support for a regional effort to build a new stadium at a forum Monday night.
“It sounds like it’s going to be financed privately with VCU and the Squirrels primarily,” Berry said at the event. “Hopefully it will involve all four jurisdictions. I don’t think the city should go it alone. We’ve got to maintain our debt capacity for schools.”