Saturday, June 28, 2014

What Was the Point of LovingRVA? 
In 2014 the propaganda supporting Mayor Dwight Jones’ plan to build Shockoe Stadium has had three dimensions. First, there’s been his own ability to make statements and force-feed information into the media. On top of that there’s been a small squad of online commenters who’ve posted supportive talking-point blather under every article on the topic they could find. And, finally, there’s been the rather unusual LovingRVA campaign.

Propaganda aside, the contentiousness over whether or not to build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom can’t be explained by partisan politics, as usual. Mayor Dwight Jones, who is a Democrat, is the chief proponent of building Shockoe Stadium, or whatever it would be called.

Although Jones won reelection handily in 2012, at that time it wasn’t generally understood that a year later Jones would change his position, to come out in favor of baseball in the Bottom. So he’s not in a position to say he was elected to move professional baseball from the Boulevard to the Bottom.

Eight of the nine sitting representatives on City Council were endorsed by the Richmond City Democratic Committee in 2012. Five of those eight are now on record as being opposed to the Jones plan.

According to a survey published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch in October of 2013, two-out-of-three Richmonders opposed baseball in the Bottom. If that number has changed, my guess is more are now against baseball in the Bottom. Guessing is all we can do to say how the issue breaks down for Democrats and Republicans. But it appears the Democrats on City Council are more in accord with their constituents than the mayor is.

For a new stadium to be successful in the Bottom it would seem the mayor should have baseball fans on his side. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be true.

By and large, history lovers are against it, too. The National Trust for Historic Preservation just named Shockoe Bottom to its list of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in the country. So, other than people who have property involved, or those who will profit directly from the buildings that are planned, who's for the mayor's plan?

Perhaps a few people who liked the blast of propaganda that was the LovingRVA public relations/ad campaign? For a month, or so, it helped to create the illusion that the coming of Shockoe Stadium was inevitable. But do we know as much about what was behind it as we should?

Yes, I’ve read that the Alliance Group designed it and Venture Richmond was involved in developing it. However, since Venture Richmond gets some good portion of its funding from the City of Richmond, now I hope City Council will investigate how the LovingRVA public relations campaign came about. I’ve read that the campaign cost $32,000, but do we really know that for sure? And, if Venture Richmond paid any part of the bill, doesn't that suggest John Q. Public's money was involved?

Moreover, I’m especially curious to hear the designers of the campaign to tell us exactly who the primary target for message of LovingRVA was. Was its point to sell something to the general public? Members of City Council? And, what concept was the copy and the art crafted to sell to its target?

Given how slowly details of the proposal how been revealed, perhaps six months ago it was meant, in part, to provide cover for the lack of firmed up details?

So we can all breathe easier City Hall needs to make a thorough accounting of the LovingRVA campaign for the record. It’s time for some sunlight. Although it now seems the rather unconvincing campaign was mostly a flop, some questions about its purpose and propriety are lingering like bad air.

-- Words and art by F.T. Rea