The Eastern League’s quest to place a team in Richmond continues despite a summer of setbacks—including the collapse of Connecticut’s sale to a local ownership group and the cancellation of plans to build a new downtown ballpark.
Several teams and ownership groups are in the running for Richmond and a decision will be announced by the league’s self-imposed Aug. 1 deadline, Eastern League president Joe McEacharn said. The team will play at least two years at the Diamond, Richmond’s aging ballpark that housed the Triple-A Braves for 42 years before the club left at the end of last season for a new ballpark in Gwinnett, Ga.
"We have finished our exploration process, and we are in the decision-making stage as to which club and ownership group will be getting the nod to go there," said McEacharn said, who declined to name specific teams. "Multiple candidates have submitted their interest and commitment to go to Richmond, if chosen."
McEacharn had publicly supported a proposal to build a $60 million ballpark as part of a $300 million development in the downtown Shockoe District area before its developer, Raleigh-based Highwood Properties, pulled out of the project. Though this project is off the board, it does not eliminate the area for consideration of a future ballpark, McEacharn said. However it was just the latest setback for the city in a series of failed attempts to land a new ballpark that ultimately resulted in the Braves leaving town.
"That doesn’t change anything. We’ll still go there for 2010" said McEacharn, noting that the ballpark issue has taken a back seat as city officials investigate the possibility of using stimulus funds to set up a light rail system. (Richmond mayor Dwight Jones) administration has committed to finding a long-term solution in Richmond for baseball. We’ve taken a leap of faith."
The experience of losing a team over ballpark issues will hopefully prove to be a wakeup call to residents and city officials about what is needed to keep baseball in town for the long term, McEacharn said.
"It was a tough road for the Braves in the International League. We look at it as we will get to reap the reward for all those years of hard and heartbreak (by the Braves)," McEacharn said. "It is not like we will (barter over a new ballpark) for the next eight years. The Braves left and sometimes that is what it takes to get people to realize they need to make a plan. Everybody wants to do something. There is no one there that wants to do nothing."
However, getting the diverse community to back a single plan has long been a stumbling block in turning ballpark plans into reality. Deciding upon a location (from renovating the Diamond to building a downtown or suburban park) and how it will be funded were problems when the Braves sought a new facility, and still remain today.
Yet it is the possibility of Richmond becoming an elite baseball town— it would be the biggest market in the Eastern League—is tantalizing enough for MILB to take a chance on placing a team temporarily in the Diamond in hopes of the city building a jewel of a new ballpark—someday.
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