RICHMOND, VA (JANUARY 27, 2020) — Richmond will become a hockey town again for the first time in more than a decade, should the Navy Hill project be approved by Richmond City Council. The commissioner of the ECHL, an AA hockey league dedicated to developing players for the National Hockey League (NHL), and a prospective team owner announced today their intent to locate a hockey team in the new Richmond arena, should City Council green-light the Navy Hill project proposal.
The 26-team ECHL has endorsed Fred Festa, former owner of the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, to bring a new hockey team to the Richmond market. Despite multiple location options in other cities for a new team, Festa says Richmond is his top choice.
“We have always been interested in bringing a hockey team back to Richmond, but we needed a suitable, cutting-edge facility to make a team viable,” said Festa, the recently retired chairman and CEO of chemicals and materials manufacturer W.R. Grace & Co. “If Navy Hill moves forward, we will invest in this team, invest in the community, and invest in the future of Richmond as a world-class city.”
“We can bring hockey back to Richmond and give citizens across Central Virginia a whole new way to show their civic pride,” said Ryan Crelin, Commissioner of the ECHL. “We are excited about the opportunity that this modern arena, anchored by an urban neighborhood, will bring to fans and families in the community.”
The Navy Hill redevelopment would demolish the Richmond Coliseum and build a state-of-the-art, 17,500-seat arena, to open in 2023. Festa and the ECHL expect to book a minimum of 36 dates a year for games at the arena. Crelin said Richmond’s prominent East Coast location serves as a “connector” to the ECHL’s North and South divisions, the latter of which includes the Norfolk Admirals — a likely and welcomed rival for the new Richmond team.
Festa said the modern arena will allow the team to create excitement for fans through a state-of-the-art facility, bolstered by a thoughtfully designed active neighborhood. In addition to restaurant and retail options where none exist today, the re-opened Sixth and Clay streets, just outside of the venue, could also be closed to traffic to create a pedestrian plaza for pre- and post-game gatherings.
While the arena be built to accommodate larger touring concerts and shows, its technologies, such as LED screens and advanced sound equipment, will allow the team to create a unique fan experience.
“Richmond ranked fourth among the top 10 markets for TV viewership for the 2018 Stanley Cup finals, and now Richmond hockey fans have even more to cheer for,” said Jack Berry, President & CEO of Richmond Region Tourism. “With our own ECHL hockey team in Richmond, we will pursue other sports opportunities for the new arena, like NCAA, CIAA, CAA, MEAC and A-10 tournaments to truly maximize all that Richmond will have to offer.”
Despite not having a hockey team in town, the city has a community of fans “ready, willing, and able to fully support a new team here in Richmond,” according to the fan-led initiative Bring Hockey Back to Richmond, which has nearly 8,000 followers on Facebook.
“The prospects of pro hockey returning to Richmond is huge not just for the ever-growing hockey community but for the city as a whole,” said Alan Sams, founder of Bring Hockey Back to Richmond and PR Director for the Richmond Generals junior hockey team. “Having a new pro team playing in a beautiful state-of-the-art arena will go a long way in building civic pride for everyone.”
While it would have a sports tenant in the hockey team, the Navy Hill arena would be operated as a multi-purpose venue, focused on booking touring concerts and shows that fill the facility to capacity. The hockey rink configuration could be flipped to accommodate a touring show in as little as two and a half hours.
“A local hockey team would be perfect for Richmond and we’re excited about the prospect of welcoming an ECHL franchise to the new Richmond arena,” said John Page, Spectra’s president of venue management. “Spectra has expertise in managing venues with tenant teams in countless markets across North America, and our in-house staff has the transition between big shows and hockey games down to a science – meaning more shows, more games, more entertainment and more revenue for the City of Richmond. The few dozen home games a year will be an excellent complement to the deep bench of top-tier concerts, family shows and community events we’re already discussing with major promoters and community leaders in Richmond.”
In addition to the games, hockey creates economic impact through jobs, small business and corporate sponsorships, and merchandise sales — all of which establish a source of civic pride and lead to new tax revenue streams for the city. Festa says the hockey team will give back to the Richmond community, including with Richmond Public Schools, through ticket donations, local charities partnerships, youth hockey programs, and intermission performance opportunities. During his time with the Swamp Rabbits, for example, the team gave more than $1 million to Greenville-area nonprofits.
“Fred is a remarkable individual who is willing and able to invest in Richmond sports and to bring a team to the city – that doesn’t happen every day and most cities would be over the moon,” the ECHL’s Crelin says. “He wants to see hockey be successful in the city of Richmond, and the league is committed to helping make it a win for the community. We encourage Richmond City Council to approve Navy Hill and bring hockey and new economic progress to the city.”
In addition to the arena, Navy Hill will rebuild a neighborhood where one does not exist in downtown Richmond. The project includes thousands of new apartments, a 500-room convention hotel, retail and office space, a restored historic Blues Armory, and significant infrastructure upgrades in the area, all of which will be funded with private dollars. Navy Hill will create more than 20,000 new jobs, a goal of $300 million in minority contracts, affordable housing throughout the city, and new revenue for schools and city services. Earlier this month, commercial real estate company CoStar announced its intent to relocate to Navy Hill, creating an additional 2,000 jobs in a proposed tower adjacent to the arena.
Article above is from the press release distributed by NH District Corp.
UPDATE: City Council met Monday night following this press conference.
Council proposed a resolution to scrap the current Navy Hill proposal and begin the process again.
Mayor Levar Stoney and NH District Corp both reacted strongly against this resolution.
The vote required to get the project approved will now take 7 of the 9 council members to vote yes.
The vote will be in March.