The success of the VCU basketball program seems to have enlivened an old debate in Richmond: what should be done about the Coliseum? Should it be renovated to included more amenities? Should it be replaced entirely?
A recent Richmond Times-Dispatch article mentioned a number of visitors who think the Coliseum needs to be torn down and replaced. Reasons given included lack of electrical outlets in the rest rooms, too few score boards, and small display screens. These problems can all be corrected by renovations and relatively minor ones at that. More serious problems that were mentioned included wider seats and escalators (though the arena already has ample elevators) but even these could be worked into the existing structure. Some have said that it would be easier to simply replace the coliseum than to improve it. My reasons for disputing this claim are three fold.
First, the Coliseum is a valuable piece of architecture. Some may find it bizarre but it is nothing short of distinctive. The interior curving hallway with its textured brick arches are a wonderful caprice. The stadium itself is intimate and brings its spectators uncommonly close to their center of attention. Furthermore, it is representative of an original and interesting period of architecture in Richmond’s history.
Secondly, we must consider not only the benefits of the new coliseum but the fate of the old one. Theoretically, the new coliseum will be constructed on a different site a few blocks to the east (between 8th and 10th and Leigh and Marshall) leaving our current coliseum to be destroyed. What will happen to this site? Infill is certainly possible, but how likely is it that this space will be built on or used effectively in the coming years? It may be over a decade until the neighborhood, which already features many empty lots, is saturated enough to induce a developer to build there. From the time of the new coliseum’s construction until then, there would be a gaping, two-block hole in the urban fabric of an already sensitive neighborhood.
The third and final reason is cost. The estimated cost of the hypothetical new coliseum would be around 150 million dollars so I will use that figure for reference. Let us consider what advantages we would get from this new coliseum. In addition to the improvements mentioned above, the number of seats would move from 13,410 to around 14,000-15,000: still not enough to host the Atlantic Coast conference tournament. 150 million dollars would essentially buy us only a few hundred more seats if used for this purpose as the other changes could be made for a small fraction of this cost.
An important question is, what (if anything) could be done with this money? Baltimore’s light rail system provides a poignant example. It’s cost averaged under 20 million dollars per mile. At that rate, the 150 million used for Richmond’s new coliseum could pay for two light rail lines, one spanning from the border of the west end and the museum district to Church Hill along Broad St. and the other spanning from Carytown to Shockoe Bottom along Cary. We must ask ourselves which option would bring more economic and urban growth in our city. Would we rather have a new, yet similar stadium which may host a few more events or a mass transit system which will encourage urban development on a large scale and make the city more attractive to potential tourists, residents, and businesses of all types? To me the answer seems clear.
Aforementioned Times-Dispatch Article: