A citizen’s group committed to keeping minor league baseball on North Boulevard on Wednesday unveiled conceptual plans to renovate the city’s outdated stadium and transform the land around it into a new residential and shopping district with office space and a hotel.
Harry Warner Jr., Save the Diamond Committee’s leader, and Randy Holmes, a principal at Glave & Holmes Architecture, presented the group’s plan at the Richmond Public Library to a crowd of more than 100. The plan, developed over the last year and a half, calls for wholesale improvements to The Diamond and mixed-use development on the 60-acre parcel of city-owned Boulevard site that has been in limbo since the collapse of Mayor Dwight C. Jones’ Shockoe Bottom baseball stadium plan in May 2014.
“The Squirrels have reignited a passion for baseball in Richmond,” Holmes says.
The group's proposed improvements would improve the fan experience at the stadium, he adds. The group’s plans call for the addition of two new entrances, one on the first-base line and one on the third-base line. It also shows new suites, a wine bar, new outfield seating and a berm along the outfield wall. Removing a portion of the concrete upper deck seating would allow a more open concourse and better view of the field from all angles, he says.
Renovating the existing structure as the group has envisioned it would cost 20 to 30 percent less than demolishing it and starting from scratch, Holmes says. The Diamond was built in the mid '80s for $6.7 million.
In addition to modernizing the stadium, the group proposes building 580,000-square-feet of office space, 225,000-square-feet of retail space, a 75,000-square-foot health club, a 200-room hotel, 1350 residential units and 3,800 deck parking spots. Plans also call for a network of roads and sidewalks crisscrossing the parcel, which would accommodate an additional 1,050 surface parking spots, Holmes says. Sportsbackers Stadium would stay put, but the group says it thinks the Arthur Ashe Athletic Center, which sits adjacent to the Diamond, should be moved elsewhere.
Warner says no member of the committee has a financial stake in the plan. He could not say how the plan would be financed, but added that the group is open to working with the city leaders or any private developers interested in the proposal.
In the summer, a group that wanted to build an independent children’s hospital at the site received an endorsement from Jones, and asked City Council to stall on developing the site. That group withdrew its ask in November. That same day, the Jones administration submitted a proposal to City Council calling for the city to determine the “highest and best use” of the site. Warner invoked the mayor’s proposal in his presentation.
“We submit the highest and best use is not just maximizing tax revenue or return on investment,” Warner says. “[It] must also include proper real estate uses … sustainability for years into the future, and quality of life. In this instance, that includes baseball on the Boulevard.”