The saying goes that bad ideas make good stories. This story has all the makings, albeit a little stereotyped. The vainglorious steel jawed Mayor championing a backroom deal that only developers and his various flunkies could love; the milquetoast City Council, dithering around the clock, headed by the ever lovable Charles Samuels (who will absolutely have to be played by Matthew Broderick or a younger acolyte); the supporters of the Mayor’s plan headed by the craggy Kathy Graziano, the wildly inarticulate Ms. Mosby and the stoically factual Ms. Newbile. The loyal opposition will be led by the feisty Mr. Agelasto and down home sweetheart, Ms. Trammel. Dithering between these teams are two somewhat timorous white men, Mr. Hilbert and Mr. Baliles, whose vote will swing the ultimate outcome. But like any good story, this one comes in layers. We need a little background before we get to the high drama of votes and buildings and …. Baseball!
So to begin…
Time: early 2013. Place: parking lot near Weiman’s Bakery, Shockoe Bottom, Richmond, Va.
Two men in shadows gesturing toward a vacant lot. Let’s call one Hal and the other one Happy.
Happy: “How ya doing, Hal? Hope it wasn’t too bad inside?”
Hal: “It was rough. Jail is no place for the faint of heart. So who’s the jerk sending out this letter?”
Hal: “You don’t know the name?”
Happy: “No, it’s ‘anonymous’ like I said. But he’s nailed some numbers down. Close to half a million going to City Council from what he says.”
Hal: “How’d he know that?”
Happy pauses…. “So you do know about this?”
Hal: “Would I tell you if I did?”
Happy: (thoughtful) “No. I guess you wouldn’t. Look, Hal, I can make this happen. But this place is sensitive. You want to open up the Boulevard for development, get the Diamond built down here in the bottom. Not a bad plan, but you gotta give me something –or the black community is going to scream bloody murder.”
Hal: “Scream. Why would they scream? It’s a great idea. Best idea I’ve had since The 6th Street Market Place!”
Happy: “Why would they scream? Geez, Hal, No wonder they put you away. Because this is like the Slave Trade Central for the U.S. of A. 200 years ago, right where you are standing, black folks fresh from Mali stood on auction blocks. This place screams history. I mean screams….you know? Mothers torn from their children, husbands from wives, sisters from brothers. It won’t go so well you try to bury that with baseball.”
Hal: (glum) “So what can I do?”
Happy: “Give me something. Give them something. Give them history!”
Hal: “You want I give them history? Okay, I’m happy to give them history. Only how?”
Happy: “There’s this lady, a Delegate for the state. I’ll tell you her name later. She’s been pushing for a Slave Museum. For years she’s been working this thing. Bugging me to death about it. You give her that, she’ll deliver the black community for us.”
Hal: “She got that kind of mojo?”
Happy: “Indubitably. She’s very persuasive. And loud. And vigorous, too.”
Hal: (hesitating) “But …you mean…like…CASH? That could be a lot of cash, wouldn’t it?”
Happy: “Chump change, 14 million; but the deal won’t happen without it.
Hal: “I don’t know. 14 million’s not so chumpy in my neighborhood. Actual cash for a museum is tough. What about a promissory note? You know, we will most definitely promise her some cash. I can totally get some people behind that.”
Happy: “Good thinking. I like that. “
Hal: “So we promise the nice Delegate lady some cash in the future from as yet to be named ‘corporate’ sources for her slave museum, while we get cash from the city right now for my projects at the Boulevard and the bottom? I like the way your mind works Happy!”
Happy: “Right. Now all we have to do is sell it!”
Time: Later 2013. Place: Parking lot near Weiman’s Bakery, Shockoe Bottom, Richmond, Va. Only this time the parking lot is not abandoned, hundreds of people mill around.
Hal nods with approval: “Nice turn out, Happy. How’d you do that? You are one helluva sales guy, I must say.”
Happy: “I will tell you, Hal. What I did was, I found myself a 501(c) 3 called Venture Richmond. Then I got myself made President. I asked all the business owners who might have an interest in Boulevard money or Bottom money to join us in support. It’s funny how persuasive money can be!“
Hal: “You are very enterprising for a politician, Happy. I like the way your mind works.”
Happy: “See that man, there? He owns the Exxon just up the street from the stadium. When he found out he might have to sell in order to sacrifice for the betterment of the city he was quite overjoyed. So all of these folks are helping me now. And I thought to myself, how do I get a great crowd for this announcement? And it occurred to me. Why, Happy, just ask all these various businesses who are happy to profit from money on the Boulevard or the Bottom to show up. And lo, they all have. It is almost a miracle. …Hal, did I ever tell you I am a preacher as well as a dedicated public servant?”
Hal: “Well no, Happy, I didn’t know that. But it’s obvious that The Lord is on your side. Not to mention the Chamber of Commerce.”
Happy: ”Indeed He is, Happy. Look, see all the happy logos saying “Loving RVA”—that’s Venture Richmond , getting my message out!”
Hal: “Very nice, but um, Happy who are those folks?”
Hal points to rows and rows of people lining the street around the Venture Richmond people. Happy frowns.
Happy: “They are uninvited, is what they are. Round them up and shoot them!”
Hal: “I don’t think you can do that, Happy.”
Happy: “Why not. I’m the Mayor!”
Hal: “I’m a multimillion dollar felon and developer. But you saw what happened to me with just a little bribing action. You can’t count on a Democracy to protect your excesses is what I’m saying.”
Happy: “Good point. Maybe I’ll just back them into the street.”
Hal: “Much better idea.”
Happy (looking concerned, watching the crowd of protestors growing): “Say did you get a sticker, Hal? Get yourself a Loving RVA sticker. Over there at that table. That sticker will symbolize your empathy for this baseball in the bottom project. It will also give the press the idea that some folks actually support our thing.”
Hal (also looking concerned): “Our thing….Yeah, you know, Happy, there are a lot of signs out there. “
Happy: “No worries. We got the businesses, we got our Delegate. We got me! What more could you ask for?!”
Hal: “Community support?”
Happy: “Community? What? You don’t call this a community?”
Hal: “I don’t think the people with the stickers live here, do they?”
Happy: “What makes you say that?”
Hal: “They look a little lost.”
Happy: “Hmmm, next time I’ll do an orientation day before we ship them in.”
Hal: “And –wow look at that sign—‘Happy Mayor is Selling Our City!’”
Happy: “That’s disgraceful. No respect. And me, a man of God.”
Hal: “Maybe you should have paid them more?”
Hal and Happy watching a video of the City Council meeting where the room is packed and folks who couldn’t make it inside are required to wait in an overflow room. Fire Marshals are forced to roam around the room making sure there’s an exit corridor. People with red shirts and letters spell out the phrase, “No Stadium in Shockoe Bottom.” A banner near the back reads, “Happy Mayor Has Sold Out Our City” Other placards and signs simply read: “No Stadium in Shockoe Bottom.”
Happy: “Have you ever seen such nattering nabobs of negativism?”
Hal: “Never! And I didn’t even vote for Agnew!”
Happy: “They just don’t believe we can do it! They keep worrying about parking spaces, traffic congestion, historical desecration and revenue generation. Like we haven’t thought of those things. We did a report!”
Hal: “Well, it is a few years old. And it leaves out a few things. And it doesn’t really talk about my Boulevard stuff at all.”
Happy: “Too much detail might confuse people.”
Happy: “Listen, now they’re suggesting baseball has nothing to do with the history of the bottom and that baseball stadiums make poor investments. Oh, no, Hal, they’re citing numbers. ….wow…I didn’t realize baseball stadiums were such lousy investments. And aesthetically they say it will be monstrous. And that map we originally used for our layout was wrong. The Richmond Times Dispatch just reported that the stadium actually will be built on at least one historical slave jail …And listen, someone else is saying stadiums hurt local business. Hurts ’em! Baseball patrons take all the parking. Regular customers of the neighborhood avoid the area on game days. Waiters and bartenders don’t like to work during games. And the people who go to games eat and drink at the stadium and then run back to the counties they came from… Ouch, citing numbers, too….I’m not feeling it, Hal…”
Hal: “Don’t worry. I have a good eye on these things. They don’t know what they’re talking about. I have confidence. I am a confident kind of man.”
Happy: “A confidence man?”
Hal: “I don’t think you should phrase it that way. Just get your Venture Richmond guys to talk loud. Talk proud. Say things like ‘bold’ and ‘progress’ a lot. Talk about how the naysayers are a bunch of crybabies and whiners who don’t want ANY development in the bottom. Do what that council lady did, compare your previous failures to Nelson Mandela being imprisoned. Stroke of genius that lady has. Don’t worry about the details. If you get asked any questions, just flash that smile. You got a winning smile, Happy!”
Crowd begins to chant, “No Baseball in the Bottom!”
Hal: “And maybe a prayer… a prayer might be good.”
(…to be continued)
Naturally, the above is fictitious, and any resemblance to individuals living today is purely coincidental, but like any good story (based on a really bad idea) there are elements of truth throughout.
According to City Council President Charles Samuels at the February 24th City Council meeting, a vote on the stadium question could come as soon as June.
If you want to help activists trying to stop baseball in the bottom, here’s a handy link:
If you’re interested in learning more as this story unwinds, here are some resources and local articles.