Ever since the Richmond Braves relocated to Georgia following the 2008 season, there has been an ongoing debate over the future of baseball in the City of Richmond. Specifically, the angst has centered over whether to build a new stadium at the same site of the existing stadium on the Boulevard or move the team downtown to Shockoe Bottom. If you have ever lived in a minor league town, the debate will sound all too familiar. Where should the ballpark be located? Can a ballpark revitalize downtown? Who will pay for the stadium? Whether the ballpark is built in Shockoe Bottom or the Boulevard, a sizable population will be disappointed. I believe a third option exists. We’ll call it the El Paso model.
For those unfamiliar with the story, El Paso, Texas is building a new minor league stadium at public expense for a AAA franchise. They believe the ballpark is essential to revitalizing downtown El Paso and putting the city on the map as a major city. While I normally frown at the use of public funds for such a purpose, what makes this model so compelling is the decision by El Paso made regarding the stadium location. El Paso is tearing down its City Hall to make way for the ballpark.
I know, stop laughing. Done? It’s true. El Paso has determined that a ballpark is more important than City Hall.
I think El Paso has it right. A ballpark just across the street from the State Capitol would be a perfect reminder to our legislators of what happens if you don’t treat public funds with care. And without a building for City Hall to meet, perhaps spending in the City of Richmond will be curtailed.