Chip Lauterbach, Contributing Writer
VCU president Michael Rao is urging the VCU and Richmond communities to support a plan to develop part of the downtown area.
In a Richmond Times-Dispatch column published Sunday, Rao voiced his support for the $1.4 billion “New Navy Hill proposal” introduced by Mayor Levar Stoney, which would be the largest redevelopment project in city history. Rao said the project “fits squarely” into VCU’s master plan.
“Navy Hill is about more than a new arena, though the benefits of having such a world-class facility should not be overlooked,” Rao stated in the column. “While an entertainment and conference venue may be a centerpiece of the neighborhood, the true benefit is the opportunity it will generate.”
The proposed changes include replacing the Richmond Coliseum with a modern arena better suited to handle large events. It would demolish several buildings in the neighborhood, making way for almost 3,000 housing units, parking and other unspecified construction projects. $300 million in contracts would be allotted for minority businesses starting up in the district.
Rao touted a study by VCU’s Wilder School that indicates the proposed project could bring almost 9,000 permanent jobs to Richmond and up to 12,000 construction jobs during the development.
Justin Griffin, a Richmond-based small business lawyer, also wrote a column in the Times-Dispatch Sunday in which he opposed the reconstruction of the coliseum, calling it “smoke and mirrors,” and said the mayor’s administration has not been forthcoming with details about the plan.
“Instead of being presented in a transparent and honest way, the project is being sold like a late night informercial,” Griffin said.
The plan has not been formally introduced by the mayor and would have to be approved by the city’s nine-member council, which approved a commission to vet the proposal last month. Rao said his support for the project is based on his notion that the progress of VCU, VCU Health and Richmond are “inextricably linked.”
“As a community, we must create places where people can be successful, enjoy life, stay healthy, and come together. Navy Hill transforms not merely one neighborhood, but people throughout our region,” Rao stated. “Let’s begin to take those important steps to bring our two Richmonds together as one.”