Bourne says he’s dropping bill to direct state sales tax to disputed downtown Richmond development

The existing Richmond coliseum was built in 1971 to seat 13,000, but, as it has aged, officials say it's hard to draw new acts and costs more money to run than it makes. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, says he’s asking his colleagues to defer legislation he proposed to direct state sales tax to a disputed arena-anchored development in downtown Richmond.

The decision, which would delay consideration of the proposal in the General Assembly until next year, comes the same week a majority of Richmond City Council members introduced a resolution opposing the development as currently structured.

“That, to me, was a fairly clear indication that the required support for the project might not be there,” Bourne said. “I think City Council, the mayor, the entire city, need to have a longer, broader conversation about what type of development, if any, they want either downtown or other areas that are ripe for development.”

Bourne says he doesn’t personally have a position on the project and only filed the legislation at the request of Stoney.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on deal next month, but five of nine members introduced a resolution Monday asking Stoney to withdraw it.

Stoney responded that he wouldn’t, citing Bourne’s bill as he defended the plan, noting the legislation would allow the city to shrink a proposed tax increment financing district — a major sticking point for many council members — from 80 to 11 blocks.

Stoney has pitched the plan as a major boon for the city that would enliven an underdeveloped neighborhood with a 17,500 seat arena, 2,000 apartments, a 500-room hotel and dozens of new restaurants.

But many residents have viewed the proposal, from a group backed by Dominion Energy CEO Tom Farrell, with suspicion, noting rosy projections have a history of failing to materialize in the city.

The advocacy group Richmond For All says it spent weeks lobbying Bourne to reconsider the bill. Chelsea Higgs Wise, a representative of the group, argued it would unnecessarily divert taxpayer money to a project that many residents oppose.

“At a time when teachers across the state are competing desperately for much-needed resources in their public schools, there is no good case for using state funds to subsidize unpopular and unnecessary projects like this one,” she said.

Update: A House subcommittee voted unanimously Thursday night to kill the bill for the year. Stoney’s office said in a statement: “As friends, the Mayor understands Del. Bourne’s decision, as Council’s action on Monday demonstrated some members are not interested in working toward solutions. Regardless of whether it’s used for Navy Hill, there’s no reason this tool for economic development shouldn’t be available to Richmond, as it is for other cities. We will keep working with the community to improve this project, and hope City Council will join us in that effort.”