The act for the Arthur Ashe Jr Sports Center is owned by the city, but members of the Richmond School Board say the school division should be treated as a legal owner of the facility after running it for the past four decades.
A simmering dispute over ownership comes as the city prepares to demolish and replace the aging sports facility as part of a massive redevelopment project anchored by a new ballpark that will replace The Diamond.
A panel of city officials will soon evaluate three development proposals the city has requested to create a mixed-use development with retail, restaurants, apartments and offices on nearly 70 acres of public land that includes the baseball stadium and arena next door.
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The city asked developers to submit plans to raze the Arthur Ashe Center and replace it with a similar facility for youth athletics. Some school board members say they must first approve the transfer of ownership and that the proceeds from the sale belong to the school division.
“I think it would be inexcusable for me … not to fight and plead for every penny and dollar relevant to the Arthur Ashe Center,” said Jonathan Young, the 4th District representative on the school board.
While city officials hope to approve a development agreement for the site this summer, the school board’s insistence that it be involved and the city’s reluctance speak to lingering tensions between the city administration and the city council. establishment independent of the school division.
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“This action of marketing the property without discussing it with us is certainly disappointing,” said Kenya Gibson, the 3rd District representative on the school board and one of Mayor Levar Stoney’s main rivals.
Young said he thinks a sale of the Ashe Center, which spans 4 acres, could bring in around $8 million. The property has a tax assessment of $11.4 million.
Gibson said, “I would be very disappointed if anything went ahead without financial compensation (to the school division) given the value of this property and the need for this space.”
“Two opposing positions”
At a school board meeting last month, Jonnell Lilly, the school division’s attorney, said the city owns the deed to the Ashe Center. Despite the city’s claim to the title, she said the school division has managed the 72,000-square-foot center since it opened in 1982 and the school board controls the property.
Lilly said that means the school board would have to decide whether to return control of the property to the city before it can be sold.
“The City Attorney’s Office and the Office of Economic Development have a different stance on the Arthur Ashe Center,” she said. “They believe that because it’s not titled in school – which none of your properties are (and) because it doesn’t operate as a school property – then all of you as a board would have no say in” the transfer of ownership.
“What we are talking about are two opposing positions,” she added.
In a May 13 letter to Lilly, Acting City Attorney Haskell Brown said the school board controlled school facilities, but the city could ‘dispose of the center without the board’s involvement or any payment. school” because it is not an educational institution.
While Lilly said the school board does not own any of the school division’s properties, property records from the city’s Real Estate Appraiser Database list the school board as the owner of several school buildings throughout the city. . The database lists the owner of the Ashe Center as the City Parks and Recreation Department.
“I agree with the city attorney,” Stoney said in an interview Wednesday. “They never owned the Arthur Ashe Athletic Center and they don’t maintain it today.”
Stoney and other administration officials likened the situation to renting a house where a tenant pays for improvements to the property. Even if the tenant painted the rooms or installed new windows, they said, the tenant would not be entitled to the money from a sale or to negotiate the terms of such an agreement.
The mayor also said the school board has failed to “use” the center for students, and that the city intends to build a new facility.
According to the preliminary tender for the so-called Diamond District project, the city asked potential developers to submit plans to “relocate functions” from the Ashe Center.
Squirrels need a new stadium by 2025
The city is looking to redevelop property around the Diamond to aid economic development and build a new stadium for The Flying Squirrels. Double-A Baseball Club officials say a new stadium is needed by 2025 to keep the team in town, as Major League Baseball has adopted new minor league stadium standards than The Diamond, which opened in 1985, does not respect.
No school board member raised any objections to the project at last month’s meeting, but some said they felt the city had neglected to include them in the planning stages.
A few also said they also felt rejected when the city turned over ownership of the school to build a new summer training facility for the Washington Commanders football team about 10 years ago. , as local students have not been able to use the grounds there as much as they imagined. a decade ago.
“I don’t want us to make the same mistake,” said Dawn Page, the 8th District representative on the board. “We need to have a conversation. We need to collaborate and come to some kind of agreement.”
Young said money for schools was vitally important.
While Richmond City Council recently released funding for the school division to begin building a new George Wythe — only after reaching a compromise on the size of the school after months of debate — Young said he and other school leaders wanted to move faster on funding more school building projects.
“Why is this important? Because we just had this debate about how many schools we can build or renovate,” he said. “That’s what this whole debate was about last year.”
“How can we maximize the minimum, stretch every dollar, and leverage our real estate portfolio to have as many children as possible in new and renovated facilities?”