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Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Exploding City

It was inevitable, another guest editorial against baseball in Shockoe Bottom. There's is an artificial divide of sorts, the passionate dreamers who want to bring baseball back to Richmond's historic center and the cool number crunchers who question their motives and view baseball as distraction that should be located wherever it can be most conveniently forgotten. After all the Braves have relocated in faraway Gwinnett County, an exurb of Atlanta. Great freeway access, plenty of parking and near the Mall of Georgia, everything that makes America great.

George Nyfeler prioritizes and analyzes, in a guest editorial in today's RTD. It turns out Style Weekly has no franchise on the Stop Shockoe movement. Michael Paul Williams has written several features on why baseball is impractical and inappropriate for Shockoe Bottom, the local Sierra Club has come out against it and even ACORN (the Association to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods) has objected. Each makes its own arguments, but taking shape is a coalition of bloggers, preservationists and cynics eager to stop the Highwood Development. The arguments run as follows:

  • Baseball is stupid. (so twentieth century)

  • No one will come after the novelty wears off.

  • Suburbanites will never come.

  • The Bottom is

  1. too dangerous

  2. too historically sensitive

  3. in a flood plain

  4. has no parking

  5. not accessible

I'll deal with these in turn, but George Nyfeler makes the broader point that baseball in Shockoe Bottom is bad for Richmond as as region. At least he is up front about his views that Richmonders near and far would be better served by a stadium conveniently located away from the city, maybe near Short Pump, King's Dominion or even Colonial Downs, the perfect example of taking a historic venue and giving all the ambiance of a freeway rest stop without all those insignificant ancillary benefits like increased tourism, business, and redevelopment of a currently undevelopable piece of land. A Colonial Downs ballpark makes perfect sense to a big box, mall/sprawl set of values. Lots of parking, freeway access, friendly development rules, no historical considerations and complete control over your environment.

Years ago the Kansas City Royals made the ultimate move from a Fort Myer's spring training facility to a baseball theme park near Orlando. This Disneyfication of baseball proved to be too colossally stupid and sterile for everyone. There was no community to support the park in a park and tourists drove straight past it to bigger and even lesson authentic venues, like the Magic Kingdom and Sea World. This should be an object less. The baseball theme park died a slow and unmourned death. Today the Royals train in retirement capital Sun City Arizona.

I use the Royals and Kansas City as an example of how not to do sports facilities, downtown development and urban renewal. Within the space of two decades, K.C. pulled its baseball stadium out of a cozy urban community, shot it out halfway to Independence along with the Kansas City Chiefs. It rests comfortably nearby I-70 with its own 4 leaf clover interchange. State of the art football and baseball stadiums sit side by side in a sea of assphalt (my spelling), parking revenue rolls in and a small army of flashlight waving kids direct you to your parking spot. Game over provides the same easy freeway ramp and a race home to catch the highlights on the evening news. Kaufman Stadium is the perfect example of what is wrong with rest stop ballparks. All money flowing into the stadium, stays in the stadium. There is no nearby development except for a few hotels. This is sad, because Kansas City supports its sports teams. The Chiefs and the Royals are consistent draws, but are cut off from the greater community. Travelers on I70 get a wide angle view of both stadiums 10 miles before they reach downtown. A website brags " one of few stadiums I have visited where traffic leaving the stadium isn't a massive burden"

This is just a long string of development mistakes Kansas City has made.
Count 'em:

  1. Downtown Airport abandoned (virtually) and rebuilt as Kansas City International 20 miles from downtown. You used to be able to sit on Quality Hill near the Hereford Bull and wave at the passengers as the planes took off. Meanwhile they got a bird's eye view of one of Kansas City's famous landmarks, the AHA Bull.

    Now KCI is a short $40 cab ride away, even farther from south KC.

  2. Move your basketball arena from an old art deco era building to the stockyards, two miles and a world away with an odor all its own. It only makes sense if you are a rodeo fan, which comes once a year. The former Kansas City Kings are now the Kings of Sacremento.

    The view from the Bull.

  3. The Union Station went the way of most train stations and like Richmond is home to a 1st class Science Museum.
  4. The worst school system in the State which like Richmond has been segregated from the better suburban schools. Unlike Richmond, it spent 150 million in 1980 dollars in a court ordered building campaign that included Latin and Greek only experimental schools. ADA did not exist then, but this massive experiment in urban education resulted in a recent State takeover due to poor test scores. Money doesn't solve everything. The ADA would have ensured equal access to these miserable schools.
  5. Streetcars vanished there like most everywhere else. My better half rode the last trip on the last street car, although she claims she was two years old at the time. Street cars that would take you to the Plaza on Brush Creek, Loose Park, downtown department stores, theatres and sports arenas.. They showed all the wisdom of the rest of the country in burning their transit bridges behind them.

Part II - Stacking the Deck

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the Source of the James said...

I don't have a dog in this hunt, but aren't you comparing apples and oranges?
You say yourself:
"This is sad, because Kansas City supports its sports teams. The Chiefs and the Royals are consistent draws, but are cut off from the greater community."

The big reason many folks question the need for a ballpark within is the city limits is the established fact that the citizen of Richmond do NOT support their sports teams so why should they have to pony up their hard earned tax money for projects that they will not use and do not need.

Paul Hammond said...

Actually, I am just telling a story about a city which may have object lessons for the one I live in now.

the established fact that the citizen of Richmond do NOT support their sports teams..

I don't believe that to be true, based on recent history, personal observation and hunches. The last year or two serve as a poor example of Richmond's willingness to support baseball. The Diamond was anything but.

It's my opinion this is gamble worth taking.

Thanks for contributing to the conversation.

mark b said...

Hey, that was nicely done. Can't agree completely with Nyfeler beacause, IMHO, Highwoods hasn't properly tried yet--they're still pushing 1st tier thinking. I'm enjoying duking it out with some "Bill" person in RTD comments. Come make fun of one of us.

Paul Hammond said...

Would if I could, I'm having trouble logging in at td.com, to my endless aggravation.

Just so you know, I make fun of you privately.

mark b said...

That's no good. Can't martyr myself if people don't witness the indignity. Oh well. I see things are heating up on Nyfeler's comments

Scott said...

Paul, you seem to insist on misstating the reasons for opposing the stadium proposal. Here are some environmental arguments:

The Sierra Club Falls of the James Group opposes the Shockoe Center baseball stadium proposal based on principles of conservation and smart growth. We preface our statement by saying we are not opposed to baseball or urban redevelopment. Rather, we wish to join the Richmond baseball discussion by imparting some basic environmental tenets that need to be recognized.

First, let us agree that Richmond deserves a world class sports stadium within its urban footprint. However, if we examine what cities all over the world are doing with new facilities, we can see that they are incorporating conservation measures and ‘green’ technology. The Boston Red Sox outfitted Fenway Park with solar water heating. In Kent, England, the local soccer team has put in green roofs and green rainwater retention in addition to solar for its clubhouse. The San Francisco Giants are installing PV solar to power nearby homes and bringing in more recycling and biodegradable materials. Bern, Switzerland’s soccer team features the world’s largest stadium-integrated photovoltaic solar system. We all saw the lengths that China went to make its Olympic venues environmentally aware. In short, why not Richmond? The current proposal suggests that a baseball field in itself will function as better storm-water retention area than what the current site offers. While this might, possibly, remotely, be true (with the City spending lots of money on infrastructure), we demand more green features from this and future development proposals in all parts of the City.

While some view the proposed Shockoe location as beneficial for the City, many citizens and environmentalists question the concept of plunking a massive structure in the middle of several sensitive, historic neighborhoods, a growing transportation center, and the topography of the Shockoe Valley, creek, and floodplain. When we compare the proposed site to the existing Boulevard one, there is clearly a sense of purpose that conflicts with smart growth principles. Of course, there is the immediate problem of building the stadium in a floodplain with millions of taxpayer dollars required to improve drainage and retention. Displacing the water with a giant complex does not adequately solve the natural flooding. The intermodal transportation center that has long been a part of the Shockoe Bottom revitalization plan should not be hindered or complicated by accommodating a baseball stadium. Both the Boulevard and Shockoe site demand more pedestrian-oriented development, but the Shockoe site’s historic and natural features would be negatively impacted by a large stadium structure. We need to ‘Restore the Core,’ not bury it under more concrete.

In contrast, the Boulevard can still benefit greatly from baseball. As mass transit advocates, the Sierra Club believes a stadium-anchored Boulevard City center could be a popular stop for the City’s new bus rapid transit as well as fans commuting from the counties as they have done for generations. For these reasons, the Sierra Club strongly questions Shockoe Bottom as a location for the ball park.

Finally, the strongest environmental argument against the Shockoe proposal is that it spurns the re-usability of the existing Boulevard ballpark. Adaptive re-use is the most ‘green’ option there is. Concrete accounts for more than 5 percent of human-caused carbon-dioxide emissions annually, mostly because cement, the active ingredient in concrete, is made by baking limestone and clay powders under intense heat that is generally produced by the burning of fossil fuels. Making finished concrete products—by mixing cement with water, sand, and gravel—creates additional emissions because heat and steam are often used to accelerate the curing process. Destroying the Boulevard Diamond ballpark and building a whole new one in Shockoe Bottom will greatly increase the City of Richmond’s carbon footprint. Mayor Wilder, along with over 250 mayors from all over the United States, signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which seeks to reduce global warming. Certainly, polishing the existing Diamond, refurbishing it with more modern and green features is less wasteful, less detrimental when compared to creating a whole new stadium in a new location.

There are other arguments against the Shockoe stadium proposal (financial uncertainty, regionalism, open government are just a few of the issues). Many of them are being aired and heard in the local media. The Sierra Club calls for equal consideration of environmental concerns. We are confident that the public will not only recognize the true costs of this proposal if given the chance, but also join us in opposition.

On behalf of the members of the Sierra Club Falls of The James,

John Zeugner, Chairperson804-288-5005, jjzeugner@comcast.net

Scott Burger, Vice Chairperson804-714-5444, scottburger@mac.com

Adele Maclean, Conservation Committee Chairperson804-282-8637, amaclean94@gmail.com

Paul Hammond said...

Paul, you seem to insist on misstating the reasons for opposing the stadium proposal.

I think I stated accurately, if not comprehensively, the reasons many are opposed to a SB stadium. Now you have added yours in detail.

I have yet to respond to any of those arguments. So far I have simply stated the experience of a city I once lived in and hinted that their experience might have some lessons for Richmond.

As promised I will respond as best I can to points raised by you and others.

Thanks for your contribution.

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