Richmond City Council Approves $2.4B Diamond District, Casino Backers Not Thrilled

Posted on: May 9, 2023, 09:34h. 

Last updated on: May 9, 2023, 12:51h.

The Richmond, Va. City Council on Monday evening approved a $2.4 billion spending plan to transform the Northwest part of the city.

Richmond Diamond District casino Urban One
A rendering of the Diamond District in Richmond, a $2.4 billion spending plan that will result in a new ballpark for the city’s Flying Squirrels Minor League Baseball team. The investment project will additionally include thousands of mixed-income housing units that will be sold and leased. (Image: RVA Diamond Partners, LLC)

Dubbed the “Diamond District,” the $2.4 billion investment will result in a new ballpark for the city’s Flying Squirrels Double-A minor league baseball team, mixed-income housing, and green space.

The Diamond District will replace The Diamond, the Flying Squirrels’ current ballpark, and occupy other vacant lands in the vicinity. The economic development zone will span 67 acres in total.

Minor League Baseball officials said The Diamond, which opened in 1985, needed numerous improvements and structural upgrades to meet its operating standards. MiLB gave the city a deadline this year to decide how to move forward, or risk losing the team.

The Flying Squirrels are the longest-running active minor league affiliate of the Major League Baseball San Francisco Giants. The Flying Squirrels were previously the Connecticut Defenders until relocating to Virginia for the 2010 season.

Casino Narrowly Rejected

Richmond was one of five cities in Virginia that qualified to host a commercial casino through state legislation passed in 2020. The gaming bill required that city voters approve of a proposed casino through a ballot referendum before city officials could move forward with such an undertaking.

The Richmond City Council held a competitive bidding process and chose a $600 million casino blueprint pitched by Black-focused media conglomerate Urban One in conjunction with casino operator Peninsula Pacific Entertainment. The project, called One Casino + Resort, was narrowly defeated by a 51-49% vote.

One Casino + Resort was targeting vacant land near Philip Morris along I-95 southeast of the city. The November 2021 casino referendum vote was largely split among more affluent, white neighborhoods north of the James River who opposed the gambling question, while residents in poorer, more diverse areas in the southside backed the gaming measure.

Though the Richmond City Council and Mayor Levar Stoney (D) are hoping to reask voters about One Casino + Resort this November, the council’s decision to move forward with a $2.4 billion project in one of the wealthiest areas of the city caused some pushback.

Casino Proponent Voices Concern

Councilwoman Reva Trammell (D-8th District) has been one of the strongest supporters of bringing a casino resort to Richmond. Trammell hopes Richmond asks city residents again about the One Casino initiative, and a different outcome is realized this November.

Trammell said during city council discussions about the Diamond District that it pains her to see progress being made for a multibillion-dollar development in a wealthier part of town while things stay the same south of the city. She said many of the constituents she represents in the 8th District, which encompasses the Southside, oppose economic developments funded by the city until a project is approved for their community.

After raising her concerns before the council, Trammell voted in favor of the Diamond District.

I’m not going to be selfish,” Trammell said. “It’s good for the city.”

The city isn’t funding the entire project or even the bulk of it. Instead, a group of investors operating under the entity RVA Diamond Partners LLC will build the residential components. The city will foot the bill for the stadium by issuing bonds.