David Napier, president of the Shockoe Bottom Neighborhood Association, speaks to reporters.
Supporters of the proposed baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom do not believe the mayor has struck out yet. About two dozen residents, business owners and supporters of Major Dwight Jones’ Shockoe Bottom stadium proposal held a mid-morning news conference outside of C’est le Vin Wine Bar to voice continued support for the plan.
“There’s a lot more support for this than you read in the media. Unfortunately ‘no’ is always louder than ‘yes’ in these situations,” says David Napier, owner of the Old City Bar and president of the Shockoe Bottom Neighborhood Association, adding that regional support for the stadium proposal does exist.
Jones pulled the $80 million dollar development plan shortly before it was scheduled to be voted on at the May 27 City Council meeting. Council President Charles Samuels, 2nd District, and Councilman Jon Baliles, 1st District, said they wouldn’t support the plan, swinging the vote out of the mayor’s favor. Members of council criticized the abrupt withdrawal.
“The mayor should have been man enough to come down here and pull the plan in front of the people,” Councilwoman Reva Trammell, 8th District, said at the meeting.
Supporters at the news conference praised the mayor’s decision to prolong the discussion, citing a still unscheduled reintroduction of a more detailed plan to City Council that Jones promised to make. Though five of the nine council members have publicly said they wouldn’t support the proposal as it was presented, supporters are optimistic Jones will secure the votes needed to move forward with the plan.
“For us, it’s [like] Yogi Berra,” says Jon Newman of the Hodges Partnership, quoting the Baseball Hall of Famer. “It’s not over until it’s over.”
The public relations firm’s involvement in the push for a stadium in Shockoe Bottom dates back 10 years. Newman says the same issues are dominating today’s debate: history, traffic, safety and the flood plain. Still, he thinks building the stadium in Shockoe would put the city in the best position to maximize its tax base in the decades to come, he adds.
“Of course, there’s always going to be people you can’t convince … but Shockoe Bottom has changed a lot in the last 10 years,” Newman says. “This could be the piece that completes the evolution.”
Others in attendance were more candid about those who oppose the plan.
“People like to bitch; it’s as simple as that,” says Dirk Graham, owner of Bottoms Up Pizza. Graham was critical of residents at City Council who, he says, have “no stake” in the Bottom, but are often the loudest critics of the mayor’s plan.
The statement is telling of how the mayor’s plan has polarized the region in the seven months since he introduced it. A petition opposing the stadium plan has collected more than 4,000 signatures, according to a website for the Community Committee Against a Shockoe Bottom Stadium.
Paul Goldman, a lawyer and staunch critic of the mayor’s stadium plan, has raised questions about its legality and finances in recent months, but says he still hasn’t gotten any answers. “The fact that [the plan] is where it is, is all on the mayor and his people, and for him to suggest anything else is false,” Goldman says. “What they wanted here was a blank check, that’s just not how you do business with public money.”
For Graham, the potential economic development and job creation the mayor’s plan would bring trumps the concerns voiced about it.
“This is where [the stadium] belongs,” he says. “[Shockoe Bottom] is the heart and soul of Richmond.”