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Decision Virginia Archive 8/08- 7/12

Highwoods properties suspends Shockoe Center/ Boulevard project

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In a move that will have enormous political implications, the private development company Highwoods Properties, has suspend its involvement in plans to build a new mixed-use development in Downtown Richmond that will include the construction of a ballpark in Shockoe Bottom.

Highwoods has been the driving force and muscle behind the plan to build the downtown ballpark that promised to bring activity and excitement to the historic section of Richmond.  However, the project has been stalled over debate over the placement of the city’s ballpark and what team should play there if and when the stadium gets built. A growing chorus of community leaders believed the downtown ballpark combined with shopping and luxury urban living could not be supported by Richmond’s economic engine.

The roadblocks raised by powerful parties, seemed to be too much for Highwoods, and despite their belief that the concept would still work, they are dropping out.

Tara Morgan will have more on this story tonight on NBC12 at 5 and 6, and I will continue our coverage tonight at 11.

You can see the entire statement from Highwoods Properties after the jump: **UPDATED WITH ENTIRE STATEMENT FROM MAYOR JONES**

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Statement by the Shockoe Center and Boulevard Development Teams

Our team has made the difficult decision to suspend our involvement in the Shockoe Bottom/Main Street Station and the Boulevard projects. We have carried these projects as far as our collaborative team can under the present circumstances.

For the past two-and-a-half years, our team, led by Highwoods Properties as the Master Development Advisor, has been focused on developing a plan to revitalize two underdeveloped areas of our City, Shockoe Bottom and the Boulevard. We believe the revitalization of these two areas would bring approximately $800 million of new economic development to our community and would be a significant tax revenue generator in our City for generations. Unfortunately, discussion of these opportunities was overshadowed by the debate over a ballpark.

The Davenport study validated our fundamental premise that a self-financing ballpark in Shockoe Bottom, supported by TIF revenue from surrounding private development, is highly feasible. Davenport also found, as we have said consistently, that such a plan is not possible in today’s revenue bond market. We are convinced, however, that the coming economic recovery would allow revenue bonds to be sold without the City’s general obligation backing, possibly as early as next year. We have always maintained that the City’s debt capacity should be used for public projects like schools, streets, and a new jail, and not for a new ballpark.

Since presenting our conceptual plan in response to a City RFP to redevelop Shockoe Bottom in October 2007 and the subsequent response to a second RFP for the Boulevard, there have been many changes impacting our proposals, principally high speed rail and the baseball team ownership. In our opinion, the most exciting change is the prospect for high-speed rail at Main Street Station. We agree with City leaders that this is a significant economic opportunity for Shockoe Bottom and the City of Richmond.

Further, the good faith effort by a group of local investors to buy a baseball team did not succeed. That has fundamentally altered the way minor league baseball will now return to Richmond. The City will need to negotiate directly with any new team owner on such issues as location, timing and financing of a new ballpark.

Our plan proposed a Transit-Oriented Development in Shockoe Bottom that could accommodate a major GRTC presence. We reached an agreement in principle with GRTC on utilizing the Train Shed for its bus Transfer Center; both groups (the development team and GRTC) made concessions to enable this agreement. While there is no conflict between high-speed rail and the proposed Shockoe Bottom project, it is unclear if it will be possible to accommodate both high-speed rail and a major bus Transfer Center that would serve half of GRTC’s routes from the Train Shed.

Another of our key components for Shockoe Bottom was respecting the African American historic and cultural heritage opportunities by making them integral features of the proposed development. While the Slave Trail Commission’s vision was not made public, we understood the outline of its property interests and we adjusted the boundaries of the project to enable the preservation of this important area.

We believe heritage is compatible with baseball, high-speed rail, and some level of bus transit. However, all of these issues require further research and important decisions must be made by all stakeholders before the private sector can be truly effective in the process.

We continue to believe that both Shockoe Bottom and the Boulevard area hold enormous untapped potential for economic and community enhancing development. It was an honor to have been selected to lead this effort to bring large-scale, private development back into our City in these two under-performing gateway areas.

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Mayor Comments on Highwoods Suspension

RICHMOND, VA. – Mayor Dwight Jones issued the following statement following the decision by Highwood Properties to suspend their involvement in the Shockoe Bottom/Main Street Station proposed development:

“The decision by Highwoods Properties to suspend their involvement in the Shockoe Bottom/Main Street Station and the Boulevard projects is due to many factors. As they have noted and as the City’s own review underscored, their plan for self-financing is just not possible in today’s revenue bond market. Additionally, there have been many changes that have come about since 2007 when they first developed their concept. Primarily, the prospect for high-speed rail at Main Street Station is a game changer for our area and we must carefully position ourselves for imminent high-speed rail opportunities. Also, there are several other considerations that need further research. They include the cultural heritage of the Shockoe area, the GRTC transfer station, and good development of open space.

“I have high regard for Highwoods Partnership and their creative leadership in proposing a vision of what Shockoe Bottom could become. I am hopeful that we can work together on future developments with the Highwoods Partnership as I know they are interested in promising economic development opportunities for our area.

“Nevertheless, at this time the situation affords us an avenue to fully reengage our regional partners in the discussion of the direction we as a region wish to move in. We know there is excitement about Richmond as a baseball town and we have a commitment from the Eastern League that there will be a team on the ground in the Diamond next spring. What we must do now is to determine what our long-term solution will be and the best way to go about accomplishing that goal.”

Written by Ryan Nobles

June 23, 2009 at 3:50 pm

2 Responses

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  1. That Mayor Jones really likes to go out on a limb. I keep repeating to myself. “He’s not Doug Wilder, He’s not Doug Wilder, He’s not Doug Wilder…” and he isn’t, thank god.

    paul_h

    June 23, 2009 at 9:36 pm

  2. How do you figure that everything is back at square one? A $28 million plan to renovate The Diamond and play games there is very viable. I’d love to see baseball back on the Boulevard, it’s a much better location as far as I am concerned.

    Tray M.

    June 23, 2009 at 11:07 pm


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