Richmond commission rules new $300m arena not “sound and reasonable public investment”

Plans for a new $300 million downtown arena in Richmond, Virginia — last seen facing delays amid significant opposition on the city council and revelations that developers paid locals $25 each to hold pro-arena signs at council hearings — hit another teensy snag yesterday when a council-requested report warned that the arena is not “a sound and reasonable public investment” because public costs may have been lowballed and could pose a threat to the city’s general fund and school system. From the report:

A majority of Commissioners (2Y-5N-2?) did not find the proposed, publicly financed $300 million arena a sound and reasonable public investment in the redevelopment of Downtown.Commissioners who held this majority view generally found the arena to be the riskiest element in the Navy Hill project, and cited one or more of the following reasons for their determination:

• A failure of the arena operations or marketing would almost certainly require City intervention

• Alternative uses for the arena site were not considered, and the need for a 17,500-seat arena has not been established or verified

• As a regional facility, the entire region should provide financial support for the arena

• The arena itself was unlikely to create strong and reliable retail, entertainment, lodging or restaurant destinations or demand

The report also included a bunch of recommendations proposed by individual commission members — many of which involve reducing the size of the tax increment financing district that would help fund the arena, which is another way of saying “have the city put in less money so we don’t risk losing as much” — but those were only unofficial suggestions.

Regardless, this is not likely to help the arena’s chances in the city council, meaning an uncertain future for the … do any sports teams play regularly at the Richmond Coliseum? No? Well, then an uncertain future for Ariana Grande tours or whatever Richmond hopes will be lured in by a new arena — right now the old arena appears to have nothing planned at all, which could either be taken as a sign that a new building is needed or that maybe Richmond just isn’t that big a college town.

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