Richmond seeks to determine future of the Coliseum | Richmond Times-Dispatch


This is a must for this city to move towards the future.  Richmond has been passed by Charlotte, Nashville and Jacksonville when it comes to sports.  Even Greensboro, NC has a BETTER area not only for basketball but for other events as well.

I have always thought that tearing down the Coliseum and rebuilding a multipurpose area in conjunction with the convention center would be a financial investment in the future of downtown Richmond and the region.

Richmond seeks to determine future of the Coliseum | Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Colonial Athletic Association will conclude its 21st consecutive men’s basketball tournament at the Richmond Coliseum tomorrow with as many questions about the future of the arena as loose balls on the court.// Buzz up!Richmond is trying to supply the answers with $2 million in immediate and near-term repairs and a market study financed by several influential business leaders concerned about the long-term viability of the 39-year-old building.

“Basically, it’s make the place safer, make it more reliable, and make it more attractive,” said Chief Administrative Officer Byron C. Marshall, who added that he will propose an additional $1 million in improvements to plumbing, heating and air conditioning, and emergency generators as part of the city budget for 2010-2011.

“The question needs to be answered,” Marshall said last week. “What’s the value of an arena to the region?”

“Once you determine that, what size should it be, where should it be located, and how should it be financed?” Marshall added in an interview Wednesday.

The city is getting some help behind the scenes from a quartet of corporate executives who helped roll out a welcome carpet last week for the CAA to persuade the association to keep its tournament at the Coliseum after its current contract expires in 2012.

“I think it’s important for the city to hold on to the CAA Tournament,” said Thomas F. Farrell II, president and CEO of Dominion Resources Inc., a utility holding company headquartered in Richmond.

Dominion, Altria Group, Genworth Financial and MeadWestvaco Corp. paid for full-page newspaper ads to thank the CAA for its long run at the Coliseum and 25th anniversary as a conference. They also have expressed a willingness to pay for a market study that Marshall said could be completed by the end of the year on what to do with the Coliseum. The city doesn’t have a price for the study yet or any definitive agreement with the companies to pay for it.

“We’re happy to lend support to a study like that,” said Michael D. Fraizer, chairman and CEO of Genworth, an insurance business headquartered in western Henrico County.

Fraizer also has a separate interest as part owner of the Richmond Raiders, a newly formed arena football franchise that will play seven home games at the Coliseum in the next three months as part of the American Indoor Football Association.

He has no pre-determined conclusions about what the future of the Coliseum should be, but he’s clear that he thinks the building has been much improved by more than $1 million in essential repairs in advance of this weekend’s CAA Tournament. He’s even boosted the repairs with his own money, spending more than $30,000 on improvements to the suites and clubhouse.

“Make sure you’re maintaining adequately the facility you have,” Fraizer said. “You create a bridge to what you do in the future.”

. . .

Originally, the city had planned to spend about $300,000 on the most pressing repairs, beginning with the roof, which caused a panic just before the CAA tournament a year ago after melting snow leaked onto the basketball court and into the rest of the building. Twin studies completed last year estimated $3 million in repairs would be necessary to extend the building’s life up to three years, while the most expensive options would run up to $14 million.

“The administration has been very focused on getting everything working properly,” said Dolly Vogt of SMG Management, which operates the Coliseum, as well as Richmond CenterStage and the Landmark Theater for the city.

CAA Commissioner Thomas E. Yeager, whose four-page letter of concerns last summer helped prompt the repairs, gave Richmond credit for the work it has done.

“It is what it is,” Yeager said late last month. “They are working hard to correct the things they can.”

The bigger challenge is what to do with the Coliseum. Does the city renovate for millions of dollars, or does it build a new facility big enough to attract NCAA regional basketball tournaments and the biggest name acts on the concert circuit? An arena of that size is estimated to cost more than $200 million.

Farrell, who served on the University of Virginia’s board of visitors when it decided to build John Paul Jones Arena, seems to lean toward new and bigger. He’d like to see the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament staged here one day. The Coliseum is “probably two-thirds the size it needs to be,” he said. “You need 18,000 to 20,000 seats to attract these athletic events.”

Fraizer, on the other hand, has seen plenty of arenas fail because they were built too big or in the wrong place. “Big is not always better,” he said.

The market study is designed to help guide those decisions, but the business leaders are clear that the decision is government’s, not theirs.

“We’re just trying to help them come up with ideas,” Farrell said.

“A new coliseum could be one more part of Richmond’s vibrant future, and I would be pleased to partner with government and community leaders to help develop a solution that works for the entire region,” said John A. Luke, Jr., chairman and CEO at MeadWestvaco, which just opened its new downtown headquarters.

Altria, based in Henrico, owns Philip Morris USA, which opened a $500 million research and development facility overlooking the Coliseum on Leigh Street. “As a company with a vested interest in the success of the region, we’ve tried to play an active role in supporting local economic development and efforts to expand the area’s arts and culture offerings,” said spokesman William R. Phelps.

Marshall said the city also has discussed the Coliseum’s future with elected and appointed leaders from around the region. “They think what we’re doing is the logical step,” he said. “They believe it is the city’s responsibility and right to figure this out.”

That’s true, said Henrico County Manager Virgil R. Hazelett, but the city’s neighbors won’t be able to help anytime soon even if they want to. “There will be conversations about regional partnerships, but that’s just not on the agenda right now,” he said, “and it won’t be for several years.”



Contact Michael Martz at (804) 649-6964 or mmartz@timesdispatch.com // <!–[CDATA[–>
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