Diamond District project faces tight timeline to deliver new ballpark

The area that makes up the Diamond District includes the namesake baseball stadium and nearby Sports Backers Stadium. (BizSense file images)

As Richmond gets closer to selecting a developer for its Diamond District redevelopment, the window for delivering the project’s new anchor baseball stadium by the Opening Day 2025 deadline is getting narrower.

And with two years expected to be needed for construction of the ballpark — not counting design work, permitting and other approvals that would precede it — parties involved agree that the timeframe will be challenging to meet, but are confident they’ll be able to pull it off.

Developers vying for the project that includes a replacement for The Diamond say such ballparks typically take about 24 months to complete, meaning construction would theoretically need to start in the first quarter of 2023, in order for the stadium to open by April 2025.

That’s the deadline that Major League Baseball has set for all pro baseball venues to comply with new facility standards, including The Diamond, home to the minor-league Richmond Flying Squirrels. The 37-year-old stadium has been deemed functionally obsolete and unfeasible for renovation, hence the plan for a new ballpark, which the Double-A club was first promised over a decade ago.

The new 10,000-capacity stadium, which the city envisions to be built south of The Diamond to allow for play during construction, would be part of the first phase of a multi-phased redevelopment of the 67-acre site that consists of city- and VCU-owned land. The larger development, to include a mix of office, residential, retail and hotel uses and related infrastructure improvements, is projected for completion over a 15-year period.

But before site work and construction on the first phase can start, a tight window remains between now and Q1 of next year for that phase to be designed, and for the city to approve it and issue needed permits. The latter is a function of City Hall that for years has been blamed for project delays.

The 60-plus acres are bordered by Arthur Ashe Boulevard, Hermitage Road, the interstate and the railroad tracks.

City administrators maintain that the timeframe is achievable with the schedule they’ve laid out, which calls for the city to select its development team next month and put the project to the City Council for approval this fall.

“It is able to be pulled off,” said Maritza Pechin, the city’s Diamond District project manager. “The first thing we need is someone to help us build it, and that’s getting the developer on board.”

Proposals forthcoming

Full proposals from the three finalist teams are due to the city June 28, the deadline set by a request for offers (RFO) put out to those teams late last month. The teams that remain in contention – Richmond Community Development Partners, RVA Diamond Partners and Vision300 Partnerswere narrowed down from a field of 15 respondents to an initial solicitation for the project late last year.

That solicitation included a list of comparable ballparks built in recent years. The most recent ballparks listed, for both Double-A and Triple-A facilities, were all completed within a two-year timeframe, according to reports, including the $75 million Riverfront Stadium in Kansas, home to the Double-A Wichita Wind Surge.

Richmond’s new stadium, which would seat 8,000 with space for 2,000 standing-room patrons, is expected to cost about $80 million and fill 7 to 10 acres of the 67-acre site. The Diamond currently seats about 6,000.

Given the scope of the new stadium, David Carlock, whose Machete Group advisory firm is leading the Richmond Community Development Partners team, said the timeframe to complete it by 2025 is challenging but achievable.

David Carlock

Still, Carlock said, “There isn’t a whole lot of ‘float’ in this schedule,” using a construction term for essentially the amount of wiggle room in a project schedule without delaying completion. “There’s not much of a margin for things to go in a way that’s not completely expected, and that has a way of happening on these kinds of larger-scale development projects.”

Carlock added, “The concern here is that, normally when you do this, you want to build a certain amount of contingency or floats into the schedule. If you think it’s really going to take 24 months, you don’t want to actually leave yourself 24 months. You want to budget for 26 or 27 months, because sometimes things happen that you want to have some leftover time for.”

While that 24-month timeframe would seemingly require the project to start within the first three months of next year, Carlock, who has advised on sports and entertainment venue developments across the country, noted that such projects can be…

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