The Diamond does not need a renovation. It needs a wrecking ball.
And that’s what will happen to the former home of the Triple-A Richmond Braves if plans for a new $353 million ballpark/downtown revitalization project are sunken by the economy, and the city focuses again on The Diamond to house a new minor league team. That’s a potential scenario the Richmond Times Dispatch reported yesterday, and considering the state is facing a $3 billion budget gap, such a grandiose project doesn’t seem nearly as realistic as it did six months ago.
But make no mistake, a new Diamond will share only the location and perhaps the foundation of its predecessor. A renovation is new bleachers and a scoreboard being put in Visalia. The Diamond project wouldn’t be a renovation. It would be a rebuild.
The Times Dispatch cited Triple-A Albuquerque as a comparison, noting that a new ownership group renovated the deteriorating home of the Dukes when they brought the Calgary Cannons to town in 2003. However the new Isotopes Park bears little resemblance to the former stadium.
"The first thing is we needed to have a new stadium built," Albuquerque general manager John Traub told Baseball America in 2007 after the Isotopes won the Triple-A Freitas Award. "A brand new facility was built from scratch. It launched a new era for baseball here; new ownership, new identity and a new major league affiliate."
The rebuild cost Albuquerque $25 million — compared to the $39 million Toledo paid for Fifth Third Field and $46 million Fresno’s Chukchansi Field cost in 2002. So it’s unclear if building a ballpark on the site of The Diamond would be significantly cheaper than a new one in the Shockoe Bottom District. However it may very well be a more realistic option considering the enormity of the current plan.
[UPDATE] The price of renovating The Diamond would likely be comparable to a new ballpark, HTNB national director for sports architecture Tom Tingle said in an e-mail correspondence. He added that "it is reasonable to expect something in the $40 million to $50 million (range) depending on final seat count and whether it is Double-A or Triple-A."
The cost of tearing down The Diamond would also be a factor, Tingle added, noting that "it will not be a simple task. (The Diamond) is a unique structure." [UPDATE]
The other question is if talk of The Diamond renovation is a sign that Richmond still can’t make up its mind on a new ballpark and is changing gears yet again? It’s an all-too-familiar script that ultimately ran the Atlanta Braves out of town following four years of failed negotiations and scrapped plans for a new ballpark.
"We’ve had a lot of delays and lack of clarity in financing," Braves executive vice president of business operations Mike Plant said when announcing the R-Braves move to Gwinnett County, Ga., in January 2008.
It’s a history you would think Richmond would avoid repeating and a reason why Minor League Baseball needs to see firm plans for a new ballpark and lease before it approves any sale, even if terms are reached in the coming weeks between a local ownership group and Double-A Connecticut (as both the Times Dispatch and Norwich Bulletin have reported).
"Sometime this summer, we need to have a clear idea of where we are headed," MILB vice president Tim Purpura said last week. "(We’ll need to) get a team in there, on the ground, establish an identity . . . From our point of view, we have to see plans are being made for a ballpark, a lease structure, and what things will look like for the long term."
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