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A clearer vision needed

Editorials

8/16/2019, 6 a.m.
We are not convinced of the need or the benefits of the costly plan to replace the Richmond Coliseum and ...

We are not convinced of the need or the benefits of the costly plan to replace the Richmond Coliseum and divert millions of tax dollars that ordinarily would go to the city’s general fund to pay for the project.

No sooner had Mayor Levar M. Stoney released the $1.5 billion blueprint to build a new Coliseum and de- velop an area in Downtown around it with a 541-room hotel and new office buildings, stores, restaurants and 2,500 new apartments, the moneyed interests behind it — Dominion Energy CEO Thomas F. Farrell II and friends — launched an expensive lobbying effort to win public support for the undertaking.

We believe the willingness of Mr. Farrell and his Navy Hill District Corp. to spend such massive amounts on consultants, lawyers and ad campaigns to get the project approved by Richmond City Council tells Richmonders of the massive financial rewards special interests expect to reap from the project.

We know that much of the area targeted for redevelopment around the Coliseum lies within a recently designated Opportunity Zone, a low-income census tract that allows investors in those areas to receive major tax benefits, thanks to President Trump and his GOP supporters under the Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

While Opportunity Zones are touted as a way to encourage investments in “distressed” urban and rural communities throughout the country, their primary function is to reduce and/or eliminate capital gains taxes for individuals and businesses that invest in these zones, whether the projects are successful or not.

According to some researchers, it’s unclear whether investments in these zones actually benefit the “distressed” community, as the Jackson Ward and Downtown area around the Coliseum has been designated by federal and state officials. Some research shows it may simply displace low-income residents of those areas by increasing property values and encouraging higher-skilled workers to move in.

Meanwhile, a new Coliseum, estimated to cost $235 million, would be paid for by tax dollars generated in an 80-block area around the new building. Any increases generated by the real estate taxes from these multimillion- dollar improvements for the area would go to pay for a new Coliseum. The city’s general fund, which supports Richmond Public Schools, police, fire, libraries, street repair and human services, wouldn’t reap any additional dollars for the next 15 years — and possibly up to 30 years — than it currently gets from the area because the additional money will be going toward paying for a new, larger Coliseum.

How can Mayor Stoney and other city officials justify diverting funds for critical needs to pay for a new Coliseum? Is a new Coliseum so important that it should rob potential added resources from critical needs such as schools and public safety?

Figures published previously by the Richmond Free Press show that estimates may be overblown for the number of shows, audiences and revenue a new Coliseum would generate. We believe Richmond taxpayers will be left holding the bill for decades, despite Mayor Stoney’s conjectures.