Batting Around: Making strides in Richmond

Flying Squirrels, city, VCU agree to move forward on Boulevard ballpark

The Diamond, which opened in 1985, has hosted the Richmond Flying Squirrels since 2010. (John Murden)

By Benjamin Hill / | October 20, 2016 10:00 AM ET

The Richmond Flying Squirrels will open their eighth season in April, and so far, they've spent each year in the 31-year-old park known as The Diamond. Is a new stadium on the horizon?

This question has continued to surround the Eastern League franchise since the relocation to Richmond from Norwich, Connecticut was motivated largely by the belief that a new facility would be built to replace The Diamond. As chronicled in this column prior to the start of the 2016 season, the on-again, off-again efforts to build a new stadium had reached an acrimonious impasse. The City of Richmond and the Flying Squirrels were at odds over how to continue working toward their long-agreed-upon goal, even questioning whether they should at all.

Batting Around

The narrative has since changed. On Monday, the city detailed "a memorandum of understanding that will guide the final stages of planning for a new ballpark in Richmond to be used by VCU [Virginia Commonwealth University] and the Flying Squirrels."

That agreement estimates the stadium will cost "approximately $50 to $60 million" and "the Flying Squirrels and VCU will be major contributors." The ballclub would pay an annual rent of "approximately $1 million, or roughly four times their annual rent at the Diamond." Additionally, reported that, according to "multiple sources," nearby Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico counties would also contribute to the project.

The ballpark would be constructed on a 60-acre parcel of city-owned land along Richmond's well-trafficked and easily accessible Boulevard, in close proximity to The Diamond. The agreement notes the facility will be capable of hosting events year-round, while being "similar in size, quality, programming and amenities to BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte and Coca-Cola Park in Allentown."

Both of the above-named facilities host Triple-A teams (the Charlotte Knights and Lehigh Valley IronPigs respectively) and draw over 600,000 fans per season. The Flying Squirrels, the Double-A affiliate of the Giants, drew 390,693 fans to The Diamond in 2016. While this was the second-best total in the Eastern League, it marked the first time they failed to surpass the 400,000 milestone.

Auburn on the market

As reported by last week, the Auburn Doubledays are for sale. The Class A Short Season affiliate of the Washington Nationals has roots in the New York-Penn League that date back nearly 60 years. The City of Auburn has owned the team since 1982, but its day-to-day business has been overseen by nonprofit Auburn Community Baseball.

"It's not a city's business, No. 1, to have a professional sports team," Auburn corporation counsel John Rossi told "Municipalities are facing very tight financial times and resources are limited."

Rossi also said the city has hired Beacon Consulting Group to assist with the process, and the New York-Penn League has "strongly" suggested a sale price of $6 million.

The Doubledays finished second-to-last in the New York-Penn League in attendance over the past three seasons, outdrawing only the Batavia Muckdogs (who are owned by the Rochester Red Wings and are also for sale). The league has changed dramatically over the past two decades, with traditional New York state locales such as Jamestown, Oneonta, Utica and Watertown relocating to new stadiums in larger markets. In addition to the two states comprising its name, the circuit fields teams in Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Ohio and West Virginia.

Hartford picks up the pieces

Hartford's Dunkin' Donuts Park was scheduled to open in 2016, but construction delays caused by cost overruns prevented this from happening. As a result, the Hartford Yard Goats had to spend the entire season on the road.

A defining moment in this ongoing drama occurred this past June when the Hartford Stadium Authority terminated its contract with stadium developer Centerplan. Arch Insurance, the company guaranteeing the stadium's completion, has assumed a prominent role. On Monday, Hartford mayor Luke Bronin announced Arch will immediately take control of the construction site. Per, "[Arch] has already retained the services of Whiting Turner Construction."

"You've got a national contractor who's built a lot of stadiums before committed to making sure it's ready for baseball next season. That's the best outcome at this stage in the game that we could have hoped for," Hartford mayor Luke Bronin told the site.

The Yard Goats' home opener is scheduled for April 13. If construction is not completed by this time, the Rockies' Double-A affiliate won't play in Hartford at all in 2017.

Inching closer in Augusta

Project Jackson, a long-gestating development project in North Augusta, South Carolina, that includes a new stadium for the Augusta GreenJackets, is nearing reality. On Monday night, North Augusta City Council approved its second reading of the master developer agreement. A third reading will take place before the end of the year; the deal will pass when and if the third reading is approved.

The GreenJackets, Class A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, currently play in 21-year-old Lake Olmstead Stadium.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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