Tempers flare during first public hearing on Boulevard development

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)– With baseball’s future on the Boulevard in question, hundreds of people attended a meeting on January 19 to discuss plans to develop a 60-acre site there. Tensions ran high at the meeting, forcing coordinators to abandon the ‘breakout group’ response format as citizens took the podium.

“You want our opinion, you listen to us in a public forum,” one woman said, standing above others in attendance. “We’ve sat and listened to everything you’ve had to say. Now it’s your turn to listen to us!”

What began as a presentation from Trip Umbach consultants turned into a series of impassioned pleas to keep the Flying Squirrels on the Boulevard.

“There is no scenario that makes sense to me and plenty of others that I know that does not include at least minor league baseball,” a man said from the podium. The original plan was to break into groups, come up with questions and comments, and have one person represent each group to save time. However, immediate backlash forced facilitators to give up the podium.

“We lost the Braves because of this. Don’t be a bad dog and chase the Squirrels out too,” said Jessie Jordan who lives along the Boulevard.

Consultants said keeping baseball on the Boulevard will not have the highest economic impact for the city. Currently the site produces $14.4 million for the city annually. A major medical campus was considered the ‘ideal use’ for the site, anchored by a new children’s hospital. Such a development is unlikely to move forward after plans fell through in 2015. Consultants said the most viable option for the site would be an urban scale mixed use development including housing, retail and dining. Supporters say they want to see the site become a major driver of economic development in Richmond.

“We don’t need another strip mall that will be abandoned in five years,” Jordan said at the January 19 meeting.

Some have expressed a desire to see the current stadium renovated, while others propose building an entirely new stadium on site. There are also those who believe the stadium and mixed use development can both exist on the 60-acre site. Some have called on surrounding counties to pool resources for the project.

Squirrels Vice President Todd ‘Parney’ Parnell said he was impressed by what he heard from the public. “The people here certainly were very very supportive of what baseball means to the Boulevard,” said Parnell.

After six public meetings, the consultants will submit a recommendation to the city.

The dates for the public meetings are:

  • Jan. 19, 6 p.m. — Department of Motor Vehicles Central Office, 2300 West Broad St.
  • Jan. 20, 6 p.m. — Southside Community Services Center, 4100 Hull Street Road
  • Jan. 26, noon — Huguenot High School Community Center, 7945 Forest Hill Ave.
  • Jan. 26, 6 p.m. — Thomas Jefferson High School, 4100 W. Grace St.
  • Feb. 4, 9 a.m. — Richmond Public Library’s Main Branch, 101 E. Franklin St.
  • Feb. 4, 6 p.m. — Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, 1000 Mosby St.

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