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After Pulling Ballpark Plan, Mayor Jones Postpones City Council Meeting

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Lots of people with signs at Tuesday's City Council meeting (Photo: Nate Eaton) Lots of people with signs at Tuesday's City Council meeting (Photo: Nate Eaton)
8News has learned that Mayor Dwight Jones is pulling his Shockoe Bottom ballpark plan, meaning City Council will not vote on the proposal Tuesday night as planned. 8News has learned that Mayor Dwight Jones is pulling his Shockoe Bottom ballpark plan, meaning City Council will not vote on the proposal Tuesday night as planned.
RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) - On Wednesday, Mayor Jones postponed the Richmond City Council meeting scheduled for Thursday, where he and city leaders were slated to discuss his controversial ballpark plan. Minutes before Richmond City Council was set to vote on Mayor Dwight Jones' controversial Shockoe Bottom ballpark plan Tuesday, Jones announced he was withdrawing his proposal.

Even though Jones withdrew his plan, he says that the plan is not dead and that he stands behind it.

"This is a bold plan," he said. "I have not seen a bolder plan in my years in the city of Richmond."

Jones said withdrawing his plan will allow him more time to educate City Council what his vision is really about.

"We want to be sure that before it's voted on. City Council has an opportunity to have all of the information."

The original plan was in jeopardy after two councilmen announced Friday they planned to cast votes against it. A total of five out of nine council members had pledged to vote against the plan. Council members said one of the reasons many planned to vote against it was a lack of information.

Jones announced his plan months ago and while there have been recent talks of other baseball stadium proposals, the mayor says he hasn't seen any and insists his plan is the best.

"The best for Richmond in terms of jobs, in terms of economic development, in terms of baseball and in terms of heritage."

The proposed $80 million development includes a Kroger, Hyatt hotel, apartment buildings, a slavery heritage site and a new baseball stadium for the Richmond Flying Squirrels. Mayor Jones says his project will generate $10 million a year in new revenue for the city and will create more than 400 new jobs in what he calls a “blighted area of Richmond.” He believes it will bring in 200 million dollars over 20 years.

"Once we are able to inform council, then we'll bring it back for an up or down vote," he said.

Informing City Council is Jones' next mission and could be his biggest challenge, as he said his trust with council members has been damaged.

"This is a give and take kind of thing and so the best way for us to get along is to be integritous about the way we handle ourselves," said Jones.

Before Tuesday's planned vote, Jones planned to meet with council members to discuss his proposal.  He says he still wants to hold that meeting later this week.

When the latest version of Mayor Jones’ plan was introduced on May 12, the administration requested a public hearing on May 27. According to a City Council press release sent on Friday evening, no one has asked for a continuance, and the request for another briefing did not come until after 5 p.m. on a holiday weekend, just days before the scheduled vote.

Councilman Charles Samuels, of the North Central 2nd Voter District, and Councilman Jonathan Baliles, of the West End 1st Voter District, announced Friday they would vote against the proposal.

“If the administration wants to revisit this issue in the fall when they may have a complete plan, we would be happy to consider it along with other potential proposals,” Councilman Samuels said in a statement. “But at this time, there is a growing consensus that this slow drip approach of information is not helpful to the City of Richmond. Instead, it is increasingly interfering with more urgent matters that Richmond City Council needs to resolve.”

Councilman Baliles said, “This proposal is still, after seven months, fundamentally incomplete and continues to unravel with almost every presentation. We have kept open minds on this plan since before Thanksgiving, but the time has come for us to move on to more pressing matters. We can always revisit this or any other plan at a later date.”

If approved, plans for the Shockoe Bottom ballpark and slavery museum would cost close to $100 million. On Wednesday, Delegate Manoli Loupassi told ABC 8News he was pushing for less secrecy if the state funds this project. He says $11 million in state money has currently been slated to help with the park and museum.

On Monday, Mayor Jones released a statement on Tuesday’s anticipated vote against his ordinance.

“I was disappointed to read in the news media that certain Council members plan to vote against new jobs, tax revenue, and a Slavery Heritage site in Richmond. Doing that would hurt Richmond by leaving money on the table,” he wrote. “That’s because keeping the ballpark on the Boulevard would restrict the revenue-producing potential of our most valuable piece of under-utilized land. That’s a bad business decision, and it demonstrates a failure to consider the needs of the city as a whole.”

Mayor Jones went on to say he feels the trust he has worked to build with City Council members has been damaged, and that he is surprised they want to “kill” the project without first understanding all the details.

“The reaction of some Council members reminds me of some initial reactions so the Redskins Training Camp and other economic development initiatives with Bon Secours,” Mayor Jones said in a statement. “Many people did not recognize the benefit these projects would bring to our economy, but they have proven to be big successes. That’s why Richmond will have two NFL teams playing here this summer. It takes vision to get things done.”

Mayor Jones says there is still time for City Council members to change their minds; he will present “exhaustive details” of his plan on Thursday (Click here to read Mayor Jones' full statement).

The plan for a ball park in Shockoe Bottom has been a contentious issue since it was first announced.

Many people who showed up to speak against it couldn't voice their opinions at the meeting, but that didn't stop them from sharing their opinion.

"I was shocked," said stadium opponent Susan Dickson. "We were appalled and disgusted."

"At this point I'm wondering what is driving the city administration to be so desperate," said Kristen Gray.

"I think it's sneaky and I think it's shady," said Rebecca Keel.

Most of the people at City Council seemed to oppose the plan.

"We hope that this would be a sign that the mayor is seeing the light here," said Scott Price with Alliance for Progressive Values

But there were others still wishing for a ballpark in Shockoe Bottom.

"I think eventually once everybody has all the details, that everyone overlies that this is a home run so to speak for the city," said supporter Matthew Davey.

The Flying Squirrels' president Lou DiBella says he's happy the mayor even brought up a plan for a new stadium, but the team is staying out of this fight.

"I've never taken a position about a location. I don't think that's my place," he said. "Obviously now this is a political arena, and I don't play that arena. We play in the ballpark. Right now, we're simply going to sit back and wait to see what happens."


Copyright 2014 by Young Broadcasting of Richmond
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Would you like to see Mayor Jones' development come to fruition or do you prefer the Diamond be renovated where it sits on the Boulevard. Sound off in the comments below or join the conversation on the ABC 8News - WRIC Facebook page!

Related Stories:

What Do Flying Squirrel Fans Think of Shockoe Bottom Ballpark Plans?

Loupassi Pushing for Less Secrecy in Shockoe Bottom Ballpark Plan

Shockoe Bottom Ballpark Proposal Back with Less Funding

Mayor Jones, City Council Agree on Budget, No Word on Shockoe Ballpark
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