Once upon a time I ran a news site, now I just have opinions on the news. 

Good morning, RVA: A downtown arena update, an important cheese event, and a vacation

Good morning, RVA! It's 75 °F, rainy, and, while highs have dropped a bit in to the mid 80s, the chance of rain continues for much off the day and into the weekend.

Water cooler

Richmond Police are reporting that two people were shot and killed early Thursday morning on the 3000 block of Chamberlayne Avenue: Olajuwon Akeem Elleby, 34, and Jammie Lee Walker, 39. According to the Richmond Police Department, 35 people have been murdered in 2019—up from 29 at this time last year.

Yesterday afternoon, the Mayor announced he’d reached an agreement with NH District Corporation on the proposed downtown arena and will submit the ordinances necessary to make it all happen at a special City Council meeting this coming Monday. Since those documents do not yet exist, it’s hard for me to tell what’s changed between what we knew a bunch of months ago and now, so keep that in mind as you read the next couple of paragraphs. Here’s an additional FAQ from the Mayor’s office—obviously with a very pro-arena slant. And, over on the flip side, here’s a Twitter thread from @RichmondForAll with some of the oppositional arguments. Jonathan Spiers at Richmond BizSense can catch you up to speed on the history of the project.

The most controversial part of the proposal is probably its use of a TIF district to fund the thing. I’ve written about this before, but a TIF will freeze tax revenues from inside the district at July 1st, 2019 levels. All of that money will continue to go into the general fund. Any new money, above 2019 levels, from within that district will go to pay for this North of Broad development. The City can draw the TIF district however they’d like, and, while I’ve not seen the final polygon, it’s definitely bigger than the project footprint—it says so in the FAQ. This means that any revenue created by any new development within the BigTIF goes to pay for the arena and associated projects north of Broad Street.

BigTIF is where they lose me, y’all. I’m not against thousands of new jobs, hundreds of new affordable housing units (affordable for whomst, though?), or a bunch of new retail and apartments. I get that lots of downtown is tax exempt and VCU’s ever-expansion makes more and more of our city tax exempt every day. I even get that some folks think a downtown arena is the best use of our extremely finite and extremely valuable land. However, cutting our City’s needs off from the revenue generated by the natural, currently-happening growth in Downtown for the next handful of years terrifies me.

The Mayor says capping the revenue from Downtown—our densest neighborhood with the most opportunity for building big, tax-generating towers—“protects the revenues we used to make record investments in schools, roads, transit and housing in this year’s budget.” That’s true, but are you satisfied with those investments? Richmond Public Schools will ask for tens of millions of more dollars in next year’s budget. Some bus routes end on the Southside and all frequent bus service throughout the city stops at 7:00 PM. The affordable housing trust fund remains basically empty. Plus, we’ve yet to even begin the conversation on the investment needed to provide homes for folks living in Richmond’s aging public housing neighborhoods. Is this the kind of City we want to protect? Aren’t all of these needs the exact reason why the Mayor worked so hard (and failed) to get the real estate tax rolled back to pre-Recession levels? Is it smart to defer on these needs for years while we wait and hope for the North of Broad project to begin to pay off?

I do believe that the Mayor see this project as a way to build the tax base and unlock big future revenue that we can then use to address that list of hugely expensive needs. However, with Richmond growing and downtown starting to thrive on its own again, I’m unwilling to lock away our ability to begin immediately tackling those needs.

Again, the documents explaining the extremely important particulars don’t exist yet, and I totally reserve the right to change my mind completely, but, at this moment, I can’t get behind a BigTIF.

This weekend, Richmond hosts the American Cheese Society, and one part of this industry event that’s open to the public and not just a bunch of cheeseheads sitting around mongering about the particulars of the cheese biz, is the Festival of Cheese Showcase and Cheese Sale. Saturday evening, for $45.00, you can head down to the Convention Center and sample as much cheese as you could ever want. I’m incredibly bummed that I won’t be around to bury myself in cheese and hope that one of y’all will go ahead and eat some cheese for your ol’ pal Ross.

Ivy Main at the Virginia Mercury has a really interesting piece about Fairfax County installing solar on a bunch of county-owned buildings and schools. Apparently, once the County gets their ducks in a row, other localities in the Commonwealth can benefit from the same rates and fees that Fairfax ends up with. There’s a lot going on behind these scenes; as you can imagine, giving localities (and humans!) the ability to generate their own electricity freaks out energy monopolies like Dominion.

Logistical news: I’m taking a vacation from Good Morning, RVA for two weeks! Next you’ll hear from me will be the 19th of August—that is, unless something bananas happens related to the proposed downtown arena or something, and I just can’t help myself. Of course, if you’ve got thoughts and feelings about Richmond’s goingson while I’m away, don’t hesitate to send me an email. I’d love to stay in the loop while I’m busy sleeping in and doing as close to absolutely nothing as I can manage. Stay frosty, y’all!

This morning's longread

Why You Should Care That Fewer Kids Are Riding Bikes

Ahhh, the last longread before vacation, and it’s a #bancars longread 😘👌.

Here in America, the number of kids who ride bikes has declined by 19 percent since 2007, and 2018 holiday bikes sales were down 10 percent from 2017. Advocates and industry analysts offer all sorts of explanations as to why this is happening, from the pervasiveness of video games and screen-based entertainment, to the highly structured and programmed nature of childhood recreation in general. But the most obvious and fundamental reason fewer kids are riding bikes these days is sitting right in your driveway. It’s your car. For all the stranger danger! and just say no! warnings that we’ve subjected our kids to over the years, the number-one threat to their lives is cars. Only guns come close.

If you’d like your longread to show up here, go chip in a couple bucks on the ol’ Patreon.

Good morning, RVA: Hello again!, arena news, and the Canal Walk

Good morning, RVA: Turn in your paperwork on time, follow up, and a swearing-in ceremony.