November 18, 2013
Mayor Dwight C. Jones
City of Richmond
900 East Broad Street, Suite 201
Richmond, VA 23219
Council President Charles Samuels
900 E. Broad St., Suite 200
Re: Shockoe Bottom Stadium Proposal and Public Process
Dear Mayor Jones, Council President Samuels, and Members of City Council:
The Partnership for Smarter Growth is a ten-year-old non-profit, 501(c)3 organization whose mission is to educate and engage the communities in the Richmond region to work together to improve our quality of life by guiding where and how we grow. We are committed to the revitalization of the city, to modern regional transit, affordable housing, better access to jobs, and walkable, bicycling friendly mixed-use neighborhoods. We deeply appreciate the mutual commitment of the Mayor and Council to the betterment of our city. This is reflected in your efforts to improve public education, support sustainability, and promote economic development. Therefore, we have closely followed the announcement and subsequent coverage of the Mayor's proposal for moving the minor league baseball stadium to Shockoe Bottom in conjunction with mixed-use redevelopment.
While we recognize the need, and share the business and civic community's strong support for continued economic revitalization, we are deeply concerned about the lack of public process in the decision-making for the stadium location and redevelopment of Shockoe Bottom and the Boulevard. We don't know the right answer at this time, nor can the public and the Council, without adequate comparative information and an effective, inclusive and meaningful public process. So, we urge you to initiate an open, meaningful, deliberative, and robust public process for discussion of alternative stadium locations and design alternatives for each site.
The best solutions result from having all of the information on the table and all of the people at the table to plan for the future of our communities. New and creative ideas and alternatives can be generated and all impacts identified through a robust public process. While our elected leaders must make the final decisions, and consensus is not always possible, decisions made after an inclusive and transparent process enjoy a greater sense of legitimacy and preserve our role as citizens in our democratic society.
While the Mayor's staff has invested a great deal of time with private landowners and developers to craft the stadium proposal, and briefed the Chamber of Commerce a few weeks ago, we are not aware that civic associations, non-profit groups, and the general public were provided any information prior to last week's press conference. At the same time, necessary studies and comparative analyses have not been available to the public. We share the concern of many that the Mayor's proposal is being presented as a fait accompli, with no meaningful opportunity for the public and Council to consider alternative locations and approaches.
Ideally, the public would have had several opportunities to weigh in prior to the Mayor's decision regarding the stadium location and neighborhood design. Community planning charrettes and an opportunity to consider staff and consultant studies and comparative analyses, would allow for the public to share input and for a more robust assessment of the best location, economic development and design solution. There is still an opportunity for such a process going forward, and in the attached document we have provided a list of needed information and a recommended process for public involvement that we hope you will consider.
We sincerely appreciate all that you do for our city, but urge the adoption of an inclusive approach that fully engages the creative energies and wisdom of our citizens. Thank you.
Andrew Moore, AIA, President, Board of Directors
Partnership for Smarter Growth
on behalf of the Board of Directors of Partnership for Smarter Growth:
Vice President, Martha Wingfield
Secretary, Mary Ashburn Pearson
Treasurer, Caroline Cooke
Studies and Data:
Despite potentially two years of work by the city staff, no documents are readily apparent on the website other than the officially adopted Downtown Master Plan and the Shockoe Economic Revitalization Strategy, neither of which included a recommendation for a stadium in Shockoe Bottom. Moreover, the public is now directed by the stadium announcement on the city website to the promotional website set up by the PR firm.
To effectively evaluate the current proposal, the City Council and the citizens would need to see the following:
- Comparative analysis of the potential stadium locations including economic development, tax base, transportation, parking, environment, historic resources and financing.
- Comparison to alternative economic development strategies and urban design approaches that could be employed in lieu of a stadium.
- Specifically for Shockoe Bottom the necessary information would include:
- Comparison to the innovation, cultural, entertainment and tourism strategies in the Shockoe Economic Revitalization Strategy, including the potential for a creative economy hub, a medical sciences and innovation hub, and a historic preservation and tourism focused approach.
- Comprehensive analysis of historic sites through historical documentation and archeology, and potential preservation and interpretation strategies.
- The impact of the stadium, large parking garage, and closure of streets on the sense of place so essential for a vibrant live, work and entertainment environment, and alternative design approaches.
- Evaluation of the flood plain, stormwater management and public park spaces.Ability of the constricted I-95 interchanges and local road network to handle the traffic, particularly if parts of the street grid are removed for the stadium.
- Analysis of parking for all users and adoption of performance parking, priced parking, shared parking and other tools that that maximize transit, walking and bicycling, and reduces the number of spaces required.
- How the proposal would integrate with the need for more tracks and train storage for higher speed rail and with the proposed bus rapid transit and other transit improvements.
- Housing market impacts in Shockoe Bottom and surrounding neighborhoods, particularly with an eye towards providing affordable housing options.
- How all the pieces would work together: 17th Street Market, Train Shed, higher speed rail, honoring history, transit, parking, stormwater management, and other economic development including the historic tourism, innovation, creative and medical economy potential of the area.
- To the extent that the proposal to move the stadium to Shockoe Bottom is also integrally tied to the staff having an economic development concept for the Boulevard, such analysis should also be fully shared with the public.
Looking ahead, the constricted comment periods at City Council meetings cannot possibly substitute for an extended public process, public discussion of alternatives, and planning charrettes. Moreover, in presenting just one fully formed proposal, the effect is to limit the discussion to the pros and cons and design issues of that one option and to foreclose robust discussion of other alternatives. The failure to provide the public with alternatives adequately studied by the city, also leaves it to those with little to no funding to develop that information, while simultaneously being barraged with a PR campaign for the pre-determined approach.
Therefore, we recommend the following process:
- Release all of the studies and information cited above. If comparative analysis hasn't been completed by the city staff and consultants, then that data needs to be generated.
- Provide a full and fair opportunity for public review, discussion, and evaluation of the alternative sites and alternative approaches for the Shockoe Bottom location, as well as alternative development plans for the Boulevard.
- Any and all district community meetings, whether held by the Mayor or the Council, should be incorporated into the formal public comment process to include videotape documentation and acceptance of oral and written testimony. These meetings should include an "everything-on-the-table" charrette-style process.
- The review process should allow for the Council to reject the current proposal and for the Council to call on the Mayor to complete evaluation of an alternative site or sites.
- Should the Council determine Shockoe Bottom to be the best location based upon a review of all necessary information (as cited above), then there must still be room to review and adjust the proposal's approach to financing, and to refine or change the parking, transportation, mix-of-uses, and designs to improve placemaking and integration into the fabric of the neighborhood, while ensuring that our history is properly preserved, honored and interpreted.