Q. What is an “Ecodistrict”?
A. An ecodistrict is an approach to urban planning and development that seeks to integrate objectives of sustainable building design, supporting infrastructure, and social equity, and to reduce the ecological footprint of a neighborhood, an urban area, or a region. In the case of GreenCity, it means a preservation and restoration of natural resources and individual buildings designed to goals of net zero energy, water, and waste.
Q. How is the project financed?
A. 100% privately. The overall master plan contemplates four sequences of development over 12 years. This will entail several capital raises over that period. The arena is financed through a Community Development Authority (CDA), which directs incremental taxes from the Best Products site’s new development along with revenues generated by the new arena to pay off the cost of the arena.
Q. What is a CDA?
A. In many places in Virginia, the local government offers to help project financing or a project component with a special assessment district called a Community Development Authority (“CDA”). A CDA is where the subject project funding is financed through the issuance of bonds paid off over many years by the owners of the real estate in the CDA district through the taxes and/or special assessments generated by the new development. The locality collects those incremental taxes for the Community Development Authority and then directs those revenues to the bond repayment.
Q. What kind of businesses are expected to be in the development?
A. Businesses that have set very high goals for sustainability. Many companies today are creating standards for their operations that include 100% renewable energy use, zero waste, and net-zero carbon footprints and to achieve these goals by specific dates. These goals are difficult to reach in the existing environments in which they now operate. GreenCity will offer a new economic model to attract these businesses to the Greater Richmond area.
Q. What does an “urban mixed-use” development mean, or look like?
A. “Urban Mixed-Use” (or UMU) is a zoning classification that allows a broad range of building types and uses to be built adjacent to one another. Unlike zoning classifications that are all residential or all retail, mixed-use developments often contain three or more of these uses on the same block. When planned well, they can create much more vibrant neighborhoods and ideal, walkable live, work, play districts.
Q. How does the proposed development compare with the one that was considered recently by the City of Richmond?
A. GreenCity is completely different as this development plan is based on green space versus infill. GreenCity’s arena also sets high goals for sustainability. Developers and operators of the facility are striving to make it the “greenest arena” in the United States. Furthermore, one of the main differences relates to how the facility would be financed. GreenCity recommends a Community Development Authority (CDA) district that would encompass only the GreenCity development area. The proposal considered for Richmond envisioned a “Tax Increment Finance” (TIF) area that included areas of downtown that were outside the footprint of the proposed development area with numerous owners.
Q. Who would use the arena?
A. Market studies have shown that a new Greater Richmond area arena of 17,000 seats could expect to get all of the major shows that traditionally tour capital cities. The arena will be strategically located along the I-95 corridor, which conveniently connects arenas up and down the East Coast, from Boston, Philadelphia, and D.C., all the way to Miami. Additionally, developers and operators expect to bring arena sports back to the area, which will likely include ECHL Hockey and G-League Basketball.
Q. How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect the development planning?
A. Our current crisis is a significant reminder of the importance of improved health and resiliency measures at the forefront of new building design, as well as the integration of outdoor spaces in our everyday living. Obviously, this is a worldwide problem that is currently engaging the best international minds to help find solutions, and that is happening now.
New standards are already being implemented in next-generation building design and include better virus-inhibiting HVAC systems and other measures. Most importantly, all of the buildings in the development will be designed to International “WELL Building” standards that will include new SARS mitigating measures.
Even though the first buildings to be occupied in GreenCity will not appear until 2023, well after recently announced COVID-19 vaccines will be deployed, 2020 has demonstrated the vulnerability of our communities to health and wellness threats. GreenCity planners and architects will have the benefit of exploring ‘best practices’ that are even now being deployed to make safer and healthier buildings for the future.
Q. What is the timeline for the project?
A. The project is expected to be built in four phases over the next 12 years with key milestones following a proposed timeline:
- Early 2021: Formal GreenCity LLC submission of plans and application for rezoning to urban mixed-use (UMU) to Henrico County
- Jan. 26, 2021: Regular Board of Supervisors meeting to propose transfer of 93.6-acre Best Products site to the Economic Development Authority (EDA); EDA enters into land conveyance agreement with Developer.
- 2021-2024: Land assembly, planning, permitting, park boundaries and initial developments
- 2023: Arena bond closing
- 2025: Arena opens
- 2033: GreenCity buildout complete
Q. How can I voice my opinion during this process?
A. There will several ways to do that. One is through the UMU rezoning process as mandated by County ordinances that provide for community input.
Additionally, the Developer will be setting up various methods to provide for community presentations and updates, with opportunity at each of those sessions to explore community ideas or resolve concerns. GreenCity will be designed as an exemplar community, and a key part of that concept is community engagement.
Q. How many developers will be involved in this process?
A. Only one. GreenCity, LLC.
Given the aspirations of the project’s sustainability goals, the importance of adhering to the Master Plan design and timeline, the park system implementation and stewardship, as well as the overall project financing, a unitary developer is necessary for the schedule and project outcome.
Q. How will this development impact traffic?
A. Any development of this magnitude is required to perform extensive traffic analysis before the development plan is finalized, and that will happen during the approval process. The site enjoys several advantages, including the proximity of two interstate highways. Additionally, a new expanded Magellan Parkway is already in the planning stages. The extended Parkway will create a new crossing over I-95, between Parham and I-295 to provide access to all points within the project. Traffic analysis will be made part of the community engagement process.
Q. How will this impact my taxes?
A. There will be no impact on Henrico County taxpayers. The project is privately financed.
The Best Products site is paying no property taxes today, and the building there is currently a maintenance drain on the County budget. Once the arena bonds are repaid, GreenCity will become the largest single generator of tax revenue in the County.
Q. Are the corporate backers who once supported Navy Hill involved in GreenCity?
A. Not at this point, but we hope there will be involvement by the business community in the future.
If GreenCity is to achieve national stature in its ability to attract new business and industry to the region, it will take not just good planning but the resources of our large corporate allies as well. Our goal is to realize this next generation, sustainable development for the benefit of the entire Greater Richmond region. The potential to draw positive attention to our marketplace using new tools and new thinking is exciting.