Hannah Eason, News Editor
Katie Hollowell, Contributing Writer
A Richmond Times-Dispatch op-ed signed by VCU President Michael Rao endorsing the proposed Navy Hill project, which would redevelop the downtown area, was written by the project’s developer.
A public relations consultant for NH District Corp., Jeff Kelley, helped draft the op-ed based on an interview with Rao, according to emails sent by university spokesperson Pamela Lepley. The Richmond Times-Dispatch details emails between Kelley and university relations staff that illustrate the collaboration between the two parties.
“It is normal for public relations professionals to collaborate on projects of mutual interest,” Lepley said in a news release. “When VCU was interested in submitting an op-ed on the proposal, Jeff Kelley offered a draft for us to work from based on an interview he had conducted with President Rao.”
Activate Virginia, a progressive organization, published emails between Lepley and Daniel Woodward, a member of the university relations staff, that reference Kelley’s role in drafting the op-ed. Virginia Public Media reports that Jeff Thomas, an author and opponent of the Navy Hill plan, obtained the records via a Freedom of Information Act request.
Lepley sent the drafted op-ed in an email to Woodward and Teresa Dulaney-Dewald in early December. Lepley said in a second email that Kelley helped draft the post.
“By the way, Jeff Kelley helped draft this based on interview he did with the president earlier — so hopefully he has captured Mike’s content and voice pretty well,” Lepley wrote.
The messages include multiple drafts of the op-ed, which was published on Jan. 6.
“I accepted the offer and the draft was vetted and edited by my communications team and reviewed by the president to make sure it accurately reflected his words and position,” Lepley said in a news release.
The Navy Hill Redevelopment plan, which Mayor Levar Stoney introduced almost two years ago, is projected to cost $1.5 billion and redevelop 10 blocks of downtown.
NH District Corp’s plan to redevelop the downtown area includes a new arena replacing the Richmond Coliseum, a hotel and affordable housing. The plan still needs approval from City Council, which has an advisory commission devoted to the project.