Commission says current Navy Hill plan would hurt RPS funding, says arena investment is not “sound and reasonable”

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Navy Hill Development Advisory Commission released its final report on the proposal for a new arena in downtown Richmond and the redevelopment of the surrounding area. The Commission called the arena investment not “sound and reasonable” and said the plan as it stands now would hurt RPS funding.

The nine-member Commission reviewed more than 1,000 pages of documents and ordinances to reach their conclusions. The process took several months.

Among the findings, the group found the costs for Mayor Stoney’s Navy Hill project have not been properly estimated. The Commission says the project would pose a risk to the city’s General Fund. That would create a problem for RPS funding as well, according to the report.

The Commission recommended a revised plan that would fully protect Richmond Public Schools funding.

Commissioners say the new arena would be the riskiest part of the project saying, “…the need for a 17,500-seat arena has not been established or verified.”

The report also says the arena would likely not, “…create strong and reliable retail, entertainment, lodging or restaurant destinations or demand.”

The Commission also questioned the affordable housing options presented in the Navy Hill plan saying, “The project should include affordable housing that at-least meets the minimum level set by City Council policy, as they have already publicly discussed.”

The group questioned the process leading up to the development of the Navy Hill proposal, and the Commission said the plan might work if more time was given to research and understand the project.

A spokesperson for Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney shared a statement with 8News from the mayor following the release of the commission’s report.

I appreciate the time and effort of the volunteers who served on Richmond City Council’s Navy Hill Commission.  

City representatives answered scores of questions posed, and provided commissioners with factually accurate information and extensive professional expertise sufficient to inform their deliberations.

The Navy Hill project, while not a panacea for all our challenges, responsibly addresses the critical need to redevelop and revitalize an underperforming area of our Downtown.

I remain excited about the game-changing opportunity before us to advance economic empowerment for ALL our residents. I look forward to working with City Council and the community to address any concerns and to make this project even better for Richmond.”

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney

A spokesperson for the group behind the proposal, NH District Corp, sent the following statement to 8News in response to the report:

We thank the commission members for their service – this is not an easy task for individual citizens to take on. While we appreciate that the commission has recognized benefits of the project, we are not surprised that it has presented an inconclusive, fragmented report. 

The commission’s report cites ‘insufficient information’ in much of its analysis, yet NH District Corp. has more than made itself available to provide as much information as needed, only to be seemingly disregarded. For example, our first opportunity to present to the commission was on December 7 – two weeks before this report was due. Further, the commission has received factual, credible information from City staff, outside counsel, and NH District Corp. It is contradictory to cite insufficient information yet find a concrete conclusion about ‘risks’ in the report. 

We look forward to working with Councilmembers on any specific concerns they have and to provide them and their independent professional consultant the most complete information possible regarding the purported risks outlined in the commission’s report. Our goal remains to be collaborative and to work with residents, Councilmembers and business leaders to create economic opportunity for all Richmonders through the Navy Hill project.

NH District Corp spokesperson Jeff Kelley

The Commission will present its findings to the City Council on January 6. You can read the report in full, including each Commissioner’s individual responses, below.

Second District Councilwoman Kim Gray spoke with 8News on Tuesday about the commission’s report and her thoughts on the proposal’s chances of getting support from City Council members.

“They need seven votes to move forward with Navy Hill and I think at this point, as presented, this is not a plan that is good for the public and that will move forward with a super majority of City Council,” Gray said. “There are several of us who think enough is enough. We’ve spent too much in taxpayer dollars and city employee time, which is again taxpayer dollars, to evaluate and negotiate this project and it has failed to get off the ground.”

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