RICHMOND, Virginia (Reuters) — A
controversial plan to build a minor league baseball stadium near the
historic site of a slave marketplace and burial ground in Virginia's
capital cleared another hurdle on Monday night as the Richmond City
Council gave the project tentative support.
The council approved a resolution, on 6-3 vote, allowing city
officials to continue negotiations on a $200 million development
proposed by Mayor Dwight Jones, a black minister, to help revitalize
Richmond's Shockoe Bottom district.
Besides the 7,200-seat stadium, the project would include a hotel,
750 apartments, a supermarket and a heritage site to commemorate the
area's slave trade history.
If the council gives final approval to the stadium's construction,
the goal would be to have it completed by 2016.
The stadium proposal has sharply divided the African-American
community and public opinion as a whole in Richmond, once major hub
of the Southern slave trade and the capital of the Confederacy
during the American Civil War of 1861 to 1865.
Supporters of the plan view the ball park — the centerpiece of the
proposed development — as a key to downtown economic renewal and a
way to keep the Flying Squirrels baseball team, a minor league
affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, from relocating.
Critics regard it as an affront to black history and the cultural,
historic significance of a place where untold human suffering
occurred. The cemetery is believed to be the burial site of Gabriel
Prosser, who led an unsuccessful slave rebellion in 1800.
Scores of protesters against the project rallied outside city hall
prior to the start of the council meeting. Inside the council
chambers, dozens of speakers testified on each side of the issue,
and hundreds more turned out to watch and listen.
Martha Rollins, a businesswoman and social activist in the
community, delivered an impassioned plea to keep the stadium out of
Shockoe Bottom, an area of the city that was once the site of the
nation's second-most active slave market.
"We have put band-aids on the wound of slavery all these years,"
Rollins said. "I ask you not to put in a ballpark ... and end the
chance to heal a national wound."
Marlon Haskell, another black clergyman who is president of the
Baptist Ministers Conference of Richmond and Vicinity, said his
group favored the stadium proposal.
"We believe the vision of revitalizing Richmond. It is an
opportunity ... for the city to be transformed into an oasis of
hope" by incorporating its slave history into its future, Haskell
The city administration is expected to return to council by the end
of March with a more fully developed plan for the stadium and its
City Council President Charles Samuels voted against the plan,
expressing concern about the need for archeological and traffic
studies before any work starts.
He cited research by the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper showing
that three slave-trading sites lay beneath the proposed baseball
stadium and argued that the city's archeological heritage needs to
(Reporting by Gary Robertson; editing by Steve Gorman and Lisa