Richmond’s political and business elite are lining up behind Mayor Dwight C. Jones’s new plan for a $200 million multiuse development project that would include a new minor league baseball stadium in the historic downtown area of Shockoe Bottom.
Jones’s plan was announced only yesterday, but it is already touching many sensitive nerves in this city, where history can be cruel.
The scheme would put a stadium for the AA minor league club the Flying Squirrels adjacent to one of the most notorious slave trading sites in U.S. history, a slave cemetery and Lumpkin’s Jail, which specialized in imprisoning slaves.
For years, Richmond has pursued a replacement for its current stadium, the Diamond, a decrepit facility in another part of town. Failure to do so led to the defection of a AAA club affiliated with the Atlanta Braves. The popular Flying Squirrels, part of the San Francisco Giants organization, also might split if nothing is done about new digs.
A survey has shown that 67 percent of residents favor building a new stadium at the Diamond’s current site on the Boulevard near Interstates 95 and 64. There is ample parking there, and access, especially for suburbanites, is easy. Jones claims there is a plenty of parking in his new plan but critics question that.
A few years back, another plan to put a new stadium in Shockoe Bottom fell apart. Jones’s proposal would include modern apartments, a big grocery store and other amenities. To address the touchy history questions, his plan includes a $30 million slave history site, but details are sketchy.
Dealing with slave history has always been difficult for the city. About a decade ago, former Gov. Douglas Wilder, the first African-American elected governor in the country, pitched a slavery museum near Fredericksburg. The effort fell apart in controversy.
Jones faced hecklers when he announced the latest Shockoe plan. Emotions are running especially high in part because this year is part of 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
Another factor is that a new historical movie, “12 Years a Slave,” about a free African American who is kidnapped during a visit to Washington and then sold into slavery, has just been released. The British-American film has received positive reviews.
The odd part of the latest iteration of the baseball stadium story and the future of Shockoe Bottom is that in Richmond, history always seems to repeat itself. As usual, it is not a happy event