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A plan to revive The Diamond – and the Boulevard

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Does “place” have virtue or spirit or passion? Does “place” transmit these qualities where baseball is played? To my seven colleagues on the Save The Diamond Committee and me, “place” does exactly that. We believe that one place vital to success in the Richmond region is a transformed Diamond, on the Boulevard, with mixed-use development surrounding it.

On Dec. 2, the committee presented to the public a bold, fiscally responsible, and popular concept to transform The Diamond into a 21st-century stadium — and to develop the surrounding 50 acres with offices, residences, and retail establishments. This proposal is called the New Boulevard Vision and is a model of comprehensive master planning and a winning solution for all stakeholders.

The committee members, all fans of baseball at The Diamond, have felt a danger that the city and the entire region could lose professional baseball for good. Why do we as a community want to risk losing another baseball team — the Flying Squirrels? Since their arrival in 2009, that team has been one of the area’s best corporate citizens and biggest community boosters. Their consistently high attendance numbers, always near the top in minor-league baseball, reflects the love affair between the team and the Richmond region. And the team wants to stay on the Boulevard!

For far too long, the entire community has debated where professional baseball should be played. Yet none of the proposals or suggestions presented has captured wide public support. Until now, no proposal championed what the committee, a grassroots group of volunteers with no financial stake, has proposed with the New Boulevard Vision.

While the committee initially sought to save The Diamond, we recognized that would not be enough. All along, there have been three challenges: the political, requiring approval by the city of Richmond as the present owner and possible renewed support from the surrounding counties; the physical, justifying the renaissance of an outdated stadium; and the financial, having to meet the team’s needs and providing financial benefits to the city, the team, and the region.

Recently we have heard about the need to determine the “highest and best use” for the 60-acre site on the Boulevard — that is, the use which produces a property’s highest value. We believe that any property’s highest and best use is not just the one that produces the highest tax revenue or return on investment. It must also result in proper uses that are in keeping with the area and are sustainable for years into the future. And it must support quality of life, which for this property means keeping baseball on the Boulevard in a transformed Diamond.

Following 18 months of work and study, the Save The Diamond Committee has created a proposal uniting a transformed Diamond with a master plan that utilizes sound and timeless principles of good urban design.

With this plan, the city can demonstrate that it continues to be a center of creative, sustainable, and beautiful development that will serve future generations in the ways that places like the Fan and Carytown do today. The plan illustrates a commitment to quality of life on a valuable piece of underused land.

The proposal includes:

Lowering the playing field to allow for new dugouts and additional lower-level seating along the first and third base lines and into the outfield — and would create a grass-covered seating “berm” beyond the outfield fences.
Creating an outdoor pedestrian promenade beyond the outfield seating berm that opens up to adjacent development and provides 360-degree accessibility within the stadium.
Creating two new entrances into the ballpark along the right- and left-field lines with pre- and post-game entertainment plazas inside the ballpark for both adults and kids.
Locating within the right-field main entrance accommodations for arriving fans — and space to house team offices, its retail shop, and a Richmond Baseball Hall of Fame.
Moving all the current “suites” in order to to open up the existing stadium concourse to expansive direct views of the playing field and to create more concession opportunities.
Removing a section of the roof and upper deck structure along the right-field line to create 20 new “luxury suites” and to add premium club seating with an adjacent outdoor patio area.
Adding multiple elevators for improved accessibility, increased and improved food concessions, enlarged and improved clubhouse spaces and training areas, a children’s play area, and themed bars, such as a wine bar.
The transformation of the stadium can be completed for many millions of dollars less than the cost of a new stadium — regardless of its location — that is less likely to accomplish this vision.

The mixed-use development on the surrounding 50 acres includes office space, retail space, more than a thousand residential units, a medium-sized hotel, a health club, and 4,850 parking spaces in decks and on the surface. Under the city’s current tax rates, the proposed density and uses can generate more than $7 million in tax revenue.

The New Boulevard Vision winners are:

The team. The Flying Squirrels remain in a proven location where they have said emphatically they want to stay. A transformed Diamond enhances what the Flying Squirrels have already achieved with record attendance since arriving in Richmond in 2009.

The fans. The transformed, iconic Diamond will provide all the expected luxuries and conveniences of a modern minor-league ballpark.

The city. The surrounding mixed-use development will provide millions of dollars in tax revenue for its schools, infrastructure, police and fire protection, or many other needs.

The region. This vision keeps baseball at a central, easily accessible location for the 68 percent of the fans who live in the surrounding counties. Additionally, this plan keeps Sports Backers Stadium in place and rebuilds the Arthur Ashe Center into a modern athletic facility. Both complexes are regional assets widely used by multiple users and should remain for the region’s quality of life.

The taxpayer. The transformed Diamond will cost millions of dollars less than a new stadium, regardless of where it is built.

Financing this proposal can be accomplished when and if the city, the counties, the team, and community leaders commit to make this vision, in this place, a reality. “Place” does indeed embrace the human qualities of virtue, spirit, and passion. For Richmond baseball and for the entire Richmond region, that place is on the Boulevard with a renewed Diamond — the New Boulevard Vision.