Time to Throw Out Baseball in the Bottom Once and For All

August 4, 2015

In a letter to the editor published today by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Rob Nieweg of NTHP and Elizabeth Kostelny of Preservation Virginia urge Richmond's leaders to put the idea of playing baseball at a new stadium in Shockoe Bottom firmly to rest.

"While Mayor Dwight Jones has gone on the record recently to put the responsibility of choosing the location of a new stadium for the Flying Squirrels squarely on the shoulders of the team, we believe that a broad community conversation — with special attention to the views of the African-American community — should determine the fate of Shockoe Bottom, an internationally significant historic place that can both bear witness to human rights abuses and promote a more just and peaceful world.

It is time for Richmond’s leaders — in the public and private sectors — to expressly abandon the idea of a baseball stadium in Shockoe, build on the Slave Trail Commission’s work, and throw their support behind a new vision for Shockoe Bottom, like the sacred ground memorial park now being envisioned by the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality."

The full text of the letter to the editor may be read here.

This builds upon recent media stories that have stirred up debate over Shockoe's future. In a July 20 interview, Mayor Dwight Jones stated that current home of the Richmond Flying Squirrels will become the site of a future children's hospital after the 2017 season and that building a new stadium in Shockoe is still a viable option. Mayor Jones said he is leaving it up to the team to decide which location best serves their needs. This prompted a July 25 editorial from the Richmond Times-Dispatch that concluded baseball and historic preservation would not work in Shockoe Bottom and urged stadium backers to find another site.

The editorial also argued that Shockoe should become a center for truth and reconciliation, proposing that "restored buildings and burial grounds could be joined by new structures to honor the slaves and those who made the long march to freedom and equality.… A museum dedicated to slavery and emancipation, to segregation and the civil rights movement would be ideal for the environs. Physical structures would have a living impact by creating the truth and reconciliation commission the United States ought to welcome. This can be done. This should be done.”

The editors went on to assert that, “The protests [against the Shockoe stadium plan] served as reminders that neither Virginia nor the United States has directly addressed slavery, its consequences, which linger, and Jim Crow, slavery’s successor vehicle of oppression.”

These strong words are especially meaningful given the editorial board's earlier support for a stadium in Shockoe Bottom, and their June 26, 2014 editorial that expressed their lack of interest in any further discussion of how Shockoe's difficult history should inform its future.

It is obvious that the issue of baseball in Shockoe Bottom is heating up, and will continue to do so as the world turns its attention to the International Road Championship bike races that will be held in Richmond from September 19-27. Stay tuned! In the meantime, please take this opportunity to tell Mayor Jones that playing baseball on hallowed ground is a bad idea. Thank you!

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