I haven’t yet taken a public stance on the Navy Hill / Coliseum redevelopment project, but with the announcement of a new CoStar office tower as part of the proposed development, that changes today. Strap in; I have a lot of thoughts.
First off, anyone who thinks the announcement that CoStar Group will build a new, 400,000-square-foot building, contingent on the passing of Navy Hill’s redevelopment, is a net positive is overlooking the details, in my opinion. CoStar is a thriving, growing company that will likely soon outgrow their digs in the WestRock building on the riverfront and need more space. They’d likely relocate elsewhere in Richmond, but their move to Navy Hill would 1) likely extend the tax incentives the company got for coming to Richmond (which expire in 2023) and, 2) funnel their tax payments right back into payments for Navy Hill’s financing since the new building would be in the enormous TIF district. None of that money would make its way into the city’s general coffers.
Secondly, the premise that CoStar would only build a new building if Navy Hill is approved is a false dichotomy, much like the project – or the way it is pitched – is. Mayor Stoney’s administration claims this is the only way – that the future of our city depends on it – when in fact downtown is experiencing a resurgence all its own without this supposed shot in the arm. Moreover, Dominion Energy, whose CEO Tom Farrell is leading up the redevelopment plans, similarly claim they’re waiting to see if they’ll construct a twin office tower to match the new headquarters downtown based on whether Navy Hill passes. Yep, dangling a carrot promising more jobs in the hopes that the project passes and Dominion benefits from the tax breaks afforded by the 80-block TIF district. Follow the money, y’all.
Third, the rhetoric used to pitch Navy Hill’s passage sounds great on the surface – the skilled public relations team has carefully crafted a narrative that paints it as the best and only option to move Richmond forward. Yet independent review has found that, unlike the developers say, the plan is absolutely not without huge financial risk that the city simply can’t afford to take; the supposed “affordable housing” will be, in fact, priced around market rate and as expensive or more than most of the surrounding neighborhoods’ stock; the promise that a certain percentage of contracting jobs will be given to minority firms, while well-intentioned, is likely outright illegal; and there is not a single publicly-funded stadium to my knowledge that has not been a net negative for any city in the United States.
TL;DR (too long; didn’t read): I am sick and tired of the City of Richmond chasing after shiny projects that promise big payoffs down the road in exchange for putting our tax dollars on the line. Like the Redskins training facility or Stone Brewing. We can’t even afford to equip our schools with basic needs. We can’t complete our city’s sidewalk grid in Scott’s Addition and other (thriving!) areas. The audacity of Mayor Stoney and friends to say that this is something that should not only be considered, but be our city’s main priority right now, is absurd to me, and honestly, offensive. This is the feather in his cap the mayor needs to go on to bigger aspirations beyond Richmond – let’s call it what it is.
I don’t know what the answer to all of this is, but something about this whole project stinks and we need to go back to the drawing board to ensure that a project of this scale is better vetted by the public and that this can all be done without putting the city in potential dire straights should the project fail. A Coliseum (the current one which was shut down prematurely so it could sit and further rot in the hopes that this project is passed) is a nice-to-have. But why can’t we, as a city, work on getting the basic necessities right before we dive in over our collective heads?