Tuesday, March 08, 2011

New Sports Arena? Whoa!!!

In his column in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, Michael Paul Williams urges the Richmond area to stop stalling and begin the process of replacing the Richmond Coliseum now. Urgency needed for new facility. Mike makes this recommendation even though he acknowledges that a new sports/concert arena would cost about $147 million, that money is tight and that nobody knows how we will pay for it.

In support of his suggestion that action on a new arena is urgent, Mike Williams points out that the Coliseum is nearly 50 years old, that we face the risk of losing the annual Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) basketball tournament and that we need to compete with the University of Virginia’s John Paul Jones Arena to get back all those big music concerts. All of these are legitimate concerns (except, of course, the 50-year old thing—this maven is way past 50 years and I need no replacing.) I must admit that architecturally the Richmond Coliseum is no thing of beauty and that the inside is in bad shape. And, if the Richmond area were swimming in surplus money, I would agree that a new sports/concert arena would be nice. However, as Mike admits nobody knows where we will get the money to build the new facility. This maven thinks that before we commit to spending $150 million we ought to find out who’s gonna pay for it.

We also need to know whether this is something we really want to pay for. Mike Williams is worrying about losing the CAA tournament. He points out that the tournament generates $6 million in local economic impact (I assume per year). However, $6 million, which is spread over a multitude of recipients, does not justify nor pay for a new arena. Do we build a new facility to be used for four days per year?

Do we have prospects for a professional sports franchise? Can we lure the Carolina Cougarz of the Continental Basketball League to Richmond from Fayetteville? Would we want to? Will a new arena bring the Renegades back to life or lure any other minor league hockey team to Richmond?

Will any of the local universities move their basketball programs to a new arena? VCU has the Siegel Center, which admittedly seats less people. Would they move some or all their games to a facility they would have to pay rental for? U of R has demonstrated, with the construction of Robins Stadium that they would prefer to keep their games on campus, even with a lesser seating capacity. Does Virginia Union have any need for a bigger basketball venue? I think not.

So, who is going to use this shiny big new stadium? We do have the current tenants of the Richmond Coliseum—the Richmond Raiders, our indoor professional football team; Arena Racing; Ringling Brothers Circus; WWE Monday Night RAW (once per year); the Jehovah’s Witnesses national convention. But what about new tenants? Aren’t we really talking about luring events from the John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville or the Hampton Coliseum or the Scope Arena in Norfolk? If the venues are more-or-less similar what guarantees do we have that musical acts and shows will choose Richmond over the other areas?

Another thing to think about is whether we can afford to build two facilities at the same time. The Richmond area has already committed itself to building a new stadium for our beloved Flying Squirrels. Although an outdoor stadium will probably be cheaper than an indoor arena we are still not sure how we will pay for the new stadium. Can we possibly afford to build two new facilities? We can’t choose to build an arena rather than a stadium. If we back out of the stadium commitment, not only will the Squirrels leave but Richmond may never get another professional sports team.

So, do we go ahead and commit a significant amount of money, which we don’t have and don’t know where it will come from, to build a venue that may or may not be used more than the Coliseum is currently used? I ask you, treasured reader.

1 comment:

Scott said...

This is less about sports and more about corporate welfare. The march of the white elephants on downtown continues...

That Michael Paul Williams refuses to recognize this is disappointing to say the least, but then I guess it offers a way to stay employed at the Times DIsgrace.