Survey leaves baseball in limbo

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The City of Richmond’s official stance on the future of the Flying Squirrels comes down to money.

Residents are being surveyed on the conclusions of consultant TrippUmbach’s Preliminary Market Analysis of Boulevard Site, which suggests that ‘a city-owned or publically subsidized stadium will not have the highest economic impact for potential development.’

Richmond Flying Squirrel’s COO/VP Todd “Parney” Parnell is committed to renovating or replacing the team’s home at The Diamond before the team’s lease ends after the 2017 season.

“Is this what the community– forget about the Flying Squirrels — is it what the Richmond community as a class A tier city deserves? Absolutely not.”

Parnell believes baseball has power beyond the balance sheet. “You may not like baseball, but somehow, some way, somewhere along the way we’ve affected your life,” he insists. “And that’s what makes us not a baseball team; that makes us an important fabric in this community.”

Parnell points to working with more than 100 charitable organizations a year, 500 to 700 community appearances a year from Nutzy, the team mascot, and Flying Squirrel’s Charities, which rebuilds ballparks in the inner cities so kids can play baseball.

But arguments against public financing for baseball are compelling in a city with high poverty rates, struggling schools and crumbling infrastructure. Richmonder Kierra Wright rattles off a quick list: “Of course. The schools, the streets, yeah. A lot more than the Flying Squirrels…”

But even as strict a government watchdog as Rick Tatnall of Replenish Richmond, a man who regularly criticizes city inefficiency, supports a stadium.

“We’re not spending money on the Squirrels, we’re spending money on a baseball stadium, and the baseball stadium is a regional asset.”

Tatnall’s plan to share the 45- to 50-million dollar cost with surrounding counties is impressive.

“If we look at it as a cost we shouldn’t do it. If we look at it as an investment, as a 30-year investment, then it’s the best possible investment we can make in our community,” Tatnall said.

Is the region ready to support a new stadium? Chesterfield County didn’t respond to our request for comment. In a statement, Hanover County Administrator Rhu Harris writes, “Hanover supports baseball in Richmond and the Flying Squirrels.”

Henrico County Manager John Vitholoukas also submitted a written response: “The Flying Squirrels have been an incredible asset to the entire region, and Henrico is willing to do what it can to keep the conversation ongoing and productive.”

But there is no conversation. In late 2013, Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones committed $10 million to plans for a stadium complex in Shockoe Bottom linked to a Slavery & Freedom Heritage Site. But it failed to rally support from the public or city council

Today, the Jones administration wraps any hope for a new stadium in the TrippUmbach Market Analysis, work that if approved and financed couldn’t possibly begin before the Mayor’s term ends in January.

The Jones administration declined to be interviewed for our story, but did respond with a statement:

The City will offer substantive comments on next steps after we have been able to carefully analyze the complete survey responses together with the preliminary market research. So, baseball is effectively in limbo.

So, baseball is effectively in limbo. And as the boys of summer get ready again to play ball, “Parney” Parnell holds out hope in a future that appears bleak.

“The Flying Squirrels are the grinders that are grinding it out every day of the year,” he said. “If we keep doing the right things the right things are going happen to us.”

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