Home Virginia Politics If Richmond’s Mayor Cared About Schools

If Richmond’s Mayor Cared About Schools


Bon Secours Downtown photo BonSecoursDowntown_zpsb4d7eadb.jpgThe stadium deal is a useful distraction. While the school system crumbles, Dwight Jones mumbles. The return on investment of his professional football venture is a closely guarded disappointment. Now he ties baseball to slavery. Where was he when Curt Flood made the only reasoned connection? It is shameful self-promotion.

When the Richmond Times Dispatch held one of its public square forums about the stadium proposal, Mayor Jones slid into the back of the room and refused the opportunity to explain why Richmond should invest millions in circus events in another scheme that will rob the deficient school system of funds sorely needed for not only current operations and maintenance funding but also investment in deteriorating infrastructure. It isn’t just schools, but they are most important. On this, the Mayor is mute.

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot…” – from Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi

Jones’s argument that the Shockoe Bottom stadium is somehow tied to the funding for the preservation of what should be hallowed ground is oxymoronic. The ground was long ago violated when I-95 plowed through; enough. And now the Mayor wants to break ground without a care about the potential sanctity of the very location he’s ready to plow under. Somehow he’s argued privately that is only the concern of those who oppose the slavery museum. And Jones is desperately looking for evidence that supports his “vision.”

The footprint for a proposed baseball stadium between Franklin and Broad streets east of 18th Street would overlap the site where William Goodwin and Henry Templeman advertised in 1834 that they were “prepared to take slaves for safe-keeping” at a location adjoining the Seabrooks Warehouse, which stood at 17th and Grace streets. – Richmond Times Dispatch

But all this is a useful deflection of the angst of the electorate evident at the City Council meeting on Monday. Then again, it is the City Council that manages to help the Mayor avoid the stickier issues facing the administration. There haven’t been appropriate forums on Richmond social services or schools. And with the City Auditor tied up with other issues, there hasn’t been time to accurately report on the revenues (aka: return on investment) generated by the millions of dollars committed to subsidizing Dan Snyder’s team, whose namesakes were one of the few blessings new slaves were able to count (as in being able to say, “At least I’m not an Indian”).

Bon Secours Westhampton photo BonSecoursWesthampton_zps35def3d3.jpgAnd, by the way, where are all those jobs that deal was supposed to generate? While Bon Secours has managed to raise a flag (and little more) over the city property in the West End, I cannot find evidence of the promised East End project. And the intimation that the big-top facility downtown would double as a health clinic when the circus isn’t in town has turned out to be another pipe dream.

The bottom line seems to be that Mayor Jones is being herded by those whose interests are less concerned with the future of Richmond and more concerned with sucking the last few bond obligation funds that the city can muster before its true fiscal condition is apparent. He shows no evidence of knowing where he is being led. He does strike an impressive pose, though; useful as a blunt tool.

If there were a vision, there would be a coherent plan with buy-in from the electorate. It would be broader than a collection of entertainment venues. It would pay the respect to history that the Slave Trail merits. There would be at least second and third order economic benefits. None of that exists.

Let me suggest that another state capital found itself in a similar situation to Richmond’s a couple of decades ago. Oklahoma City had a deteriorating public school system and a decaying downtown industrial area. There they did the right thing and developed a proposal presented to the electorate that included a fiscally responsible temporary sales tax increase to fund the project (which included a modern baseball facility). The Oklahoma City Metropolitan Area Projects succeeded and raised the kind of money that is required to give Richmond a bright and vibrant future. The figures that Mayor Jones is working with are either a joke or a lie. And instead of earning interest on the funds such a plan would raise, he is promising to obligate another interest expense that will further bleed funding from much more important concerns like jails, social services and schools to mention a couple.

Richmond deserves much better. The electorate should focus its angst toward real concerns like schools rather than the distraction of a semi-pro baseball stadium.

And if Mayor Jones rests well at night, he is a sad, self-deluded man; useful, though he is as a strawman.

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    It’s elementary school economics to see that having a quality school system is far more important to attracting businesses and the jobs they bring than giving Dan Snyder a practice field or giving a baseball team a diamond to play on. High-quality school are also a prerequisite to attracting people to once again live in the city, forsaking suburbs that offer none of the attractions of city life.  

  • The Richmonder

    It’s a development plan.

    Richmond’s single largest source of tax revenue is real estate taxes.  Another large source of revenue is sales tax revenue.  A large portion of Shockoe Bottom is sitting vacant and blighted–the city owns a large portion of the land to be developed, and it can’t very tax itself.

    The existing ball field–the “Diamond”–is over-aged and needs to be replaced.  It also sits on land that is extremely valuable and could be re-developed.  The Diamond is currently surrounded by wide expanses of surface parking–all could be developed into retail, residential, and mixed use, creating an ongoing source of real estate tax revenue.  The retail development of this area would provide a stream of sales tax revenue and it would allow Richmonders to do more of their shopping in Richmond instead of driving out to the counties–keeping our tax money in the city.

    The development plan proposed by the mayor also solves several problems in Shockoe Bottom.  The highest priority is the Slavery Heritage site centered on Lumpkin’s Jail and the Old African Burial Grounds. The plan prioritizes the construction of a slavery museum at Lumpkin’s.

    Another key part of the plan that critics never bother to mention is correcting flooding issues connected with Shockoe Creek, which will make it safe to develop surrounding properties with a hotel, grocery store, and high end apartments.

    The goal of all this development is to dramatically enhance this city’s tax base so the increased revenue can be spent on things like schools and affordable housing.

    One of the key objections raised by critics of the plan is that somehow it will “desecrate hallowed ground.”  A red flag should go up when you hear this issued raised.  The main supporters of this plan are African American; most of those stamping their feet about desecration are white, middle class people who live near the current Diamond.  It’s a hell of a thing that the African American parts of Richmond are too “historic” to get redevelopment dollars, so all the development needs to go in the white majority areas.

    Councilman Samuels, in whose district the Diamond sits, has been desperate to stall the development plan any way he can.  His latest stall tactic was to require a massive archeological dig paid for out of developers’ pockets before any construction could begin.  This is a red herring.  Slavery in Virginia did not occur in Biblical times.  We have a surprisingly large amount of information about slavery in Richmond.

    Slavery was a business, and the men who conducted that business left an ample trail of evidence about their whereabouts and activities.  They advertised in newspapers and were listed in city directories, the “phone books” of their day.  We know pretty much exactly where slaves were bought, sold, and rented.

    Take a moment and look at this map, I’ll wait:


    As this map clearly shows, the center of Richmond’s slave market was to the west of the Lumpkin’s site, along 15th, Main, and Franklin Streets.  The handful of sites near the proposed development ARE ALREADY BUILT OVER.  I have yet to hear anyone propose tearing down any building built on a site where slaves were sold.  At 15th and Main, a strip club sits on the site where slaves were once sold–I have yet to hear any complaints from stadium opponents who think that baseball–the national pastime –is a desecration.  Stripping women on a slave site is apparently fine; the irony of women stripping at a location where slave women doubtless were force to strip before being sold is apparently lost on them.

    The opposition to the development plan has been extremely vocal, to the point of being shrill, but they are outnumbered by people who support the plan and who quietly want to shake things up in Richmond.  The city council meeting was a study in contrasts.  The “Antis” were made up of a variety of people from Richmond’s counter-culture: anarchists, Occupy Richmond holdouts, various cranks, and one guy who came to speak against the Slavery Heritage site because Blacks need to “get over” slavery.  Yep, that happened.

    The pros were young urban professionals, small business owners, and generally people with a positive outlook who want Richmond to move forward. The owner of part of the land needed for the plan–the plot were an Exxon gas station currently sits–came forward and said emotionally that if it would help Richmond move forward he would give up his land (by which I think he meant he would sell it for a fair price).

    In contrast, the “Antis” have begun resorting to threats, intimidation, harassment, and vandalism.  Some of them have basically threatened a guerilla war if the development plan is approved.  Their tactics speak volumes: these are the tactics of a tiny minority attempting to impose its views on the democratically elected majority.