Henrico panel recommends Richmond Raceway for site of new indoor sports facility

A panel convened by Henrico County’s chief executive has culled the list of applicants to build a new indoor sports and convocation center and zeroed in on Richmond Raceway’s grounds as the preferred site for a 194,000-square-foot facility.

Henrico is looking to partner with a company for the construction of the center and its 1,200 parking spaces in hopes of leveraging private resources to capitalize on a burgeoning regional sports tourism industry. As envisioned, the facility also would draw school graduations and other special events.

Officials declined to discuss the prospective project’s finances while the county weighs the panel’s recommended contenders: MEB General Contractors Inc. and Eastern Sports Management LLC.

In an Oct. 22 letter to County Manager John Vithoulkas, the panel led by Recreation and Parks Director Neil Luther said the two firms submitted the strongest proposals of six applicants. Riverstone Properties LLC, Belmont Community Development LLC, SB Ballard Construction Co., and The Rebkee Co./Hourigan Development LLC also applied, the letter states.

“In their respective submissions,” the letter says, “each of these two offerors demonstrated a clear and superior understanding of the youth sports industry and the opportunities and challenges faced by localities like Henrico seeking to optimize their market position both locally and nationally.”

The work group, which Vithoulkas said includes Jack Berry, president of Richmond Region Tourism, and a finance professional with BB&T Capital Markets, said Richmond Raceway’s property owners agreed to have their land included in the proposals.

In a statement, Richmond Raceway spokesman Brent Gambill said the racetrack’s owners are supportive of the effort to build “a much-needed and unique facility” in Henrico.

“The Richmond Raceway Complex hosts a variety of events on our 1,100-plus-acre multipurpose facility throughout the year, and we are confident this site aligns with the scope and vision outlined in the [proposals],” Gambill said.

All six of the pitches are available to the public online, but details about design and financing for the two proposals recommended for further study are redacted.

The Public-Private Education and Infrastructure Act requires localities to protect information in proposals that the applicants identified as confidential.

Megan Rhyne of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government noted that the Virginia Public Procurement Act allows localities to withhold such documents.

“If the contract hasn’t been awarded, it looks to me like they can withhold whatever they want under the PPA,” she said.

While the Freedom of Information Act generally gives localities discretion to disclose proprietary records in many cases, the county must protect these records under the Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act, said Henrico spokesman Steve Knockemus.

“As specified in this FOIA statute, private entities are required to identify their confidential and proprietary information in advance, identify the particular data or materials for which protection is sought, and state the reasons why,” Knockemus said.

Luther declined to talk about why the applicants requested secrecy but assured that the two proposals were the best among the six submissions.

“We evaluated the proposals against criteria laid out in the original request for proposals,” he said. “Those were the best responses to the requirements, qualifications, experience and approach in this particular request.”

Vithoulkas said the raceway’s parking and the road network around it are ideal for the new sports center, but a final decision is still far away.

“It’s far too premature to say this facility is for certain to be located at the Richmond Raceway,” he said. “At this point hopes are high, but there’s no certainty to a final location.”

Vithoulkas said the Board of Supervisors will review the proposals in a work session before the end of the year.

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