For years, Richmond has been desperate for a new stadium for its minor league baseball team, the Flying Squirrels. Virginia Commonwealth University, which shares the facility with the Squirrels, says it could use a new ballpark itself.
Both have eyed land currently occupied by the state’s central liquor distribution warehouse for a shared baseball stadium, and VCU, being a state school, has been targeted as the perfect vehicle for such a transfer.
Republican leaders in the General Assembly, perhaps reluctant to subsidize a new stadium for Richmond in the form of a land transfer, have seemed a little suspicious about the whole thing since Gov. Terry McAuliffe set things in motion to move the liquor warehouse and free up the land for a ballpark back in 2017, not long after his mentee, Levar Stoney, was elected mayor of Richmond.
Which brings us to Monday. Lawmakers agreed in principal this year to transfer the land, but only after VCU outlines exactly how they intend to use it.
At a meeting of the House of Delegates’ appropriations committee, VCU Athletics Director Ed McLaughlin outlined the school’s plan for the site in broad strokes for the first time, presenting three options.
Two include a baseball stadium. All include an indoor tennis center and some combination of practice fields for soccer and other sports.
McLaughlin’s pitch focused less on baseball and more on the broader needs of VCU’s sports departments, though, it’s worth noting that a stadium would take up about half of the 20 acre site, which sits across the road from the city’s current ballpark.
“Our student athletes do not have the facilities they need to compete to match our expectations,” he said.
He said the soccer team practices in a city park. The baseball team doesn’t have locker rooms at the current stadium so they have to change before driving there.
“It’s a really tough experience,” he said.
Most members of the committee sounded receptive. The next step is for VCU to submit a more detailed outline of their plans for the space this fall. The state also needs to determine the land’s value.
House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, said he expects the school to pay market value for the land.
Under budget language approved this year, the proposal would then go before the General Assembly for approval.