Friday, March 2, 2012

Jones Budget Proposal to Include Capital Investments

Tourism economic impact at center of plans

The Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) being prepared by the Jones Administration for submission to City Council on March 6 includes what Mayor Jones is calling key tourism economic drivers designed to spur the areas creative economy.

Included in the Mayor’s proposed budget is $14 million in proposed improvements to the historic Landmark Theater, $5 million for Shockoe Bottom Revitalization plans, and $5 million for riverfront development.

Mayor Dwight C. Jones cited tourism as a driver for his decision to propose these investments. “Increasing our tourism draw is a revenue generator and of great benefit to the city,” said Mayor Jones. “For example, it is anticipated that the Landmark renovations will lead to expanded operations and the additional visitor spending will generate an estimated annual economic impact of $6.1 million for the city of Richmond - doubling the economic impact and tax revenue presently generated by the Landmark Theater.”

Jones explained that the $14 million investment from the City will pave the way for renovations worth about $50 million. Richmond CenterStage is proposing to utilize historic tax credits, naming opportunities, corporate and other private fundraising to generate the additional $36 million in renovations to augment the public support.

“For every dollar we invest, another $2.80 in investments will be generated to support this valuable city asset,” said Mayor Jones. “We’ve already seen an increased interest in Broadway productions wanting to come to Richmond. With a renovated facility, we believe we can draw up to 60,000 new attendants to the Landmark Theatre per year, supporting increased funding for the city and the core services we need to provide.”

“With tax revenues as flat as they’ve been over the past several years, we need to find ways to invest in projects that will increase our assessed values and increase tourism revenue,” continued Mayor Jones.

The Mayor also has plans to build on the development momentum in Shockoe Bottom. “We want to create jobs and growth for our city and tourism can be a real economic driver for us,” said the Mayor.

The Train Shed at Main Street Station has not been in use for almost two decades. Work will begin soon, transforming the Train Shed into a multi-modal transportation hub, and is expected to be completed by 2014.

“To enhance the redevelopment of Main Street Station in Shockoe Bottom, I’m proposing that we invest $5 million to begin development of a Shockoe Bottom promenade and to transform the 17th Street Farmer’s Market. This is a move that will help anchor that area as a tourist attraction creating a public open space and eventually connecting Broad Street to Main Street.”

The Mayor’s budget plans also include development of the Riverfront. “Everyone would agree that the River is our most valuable asset. Our biggest challenge is striking the right balance between development and protecting our natural resource.”

The city recently held a series of public information sessions related to Riverfront development. “One of the things that we all agree on is providing greater access to the river for families, schools, visitors, and others. It could be an enhancement that would spur other economic growth and development. To that end, I am proposing $5 million for Riverfront Development. We want to start with the Riverfront Terraces and the vision that I shared at my recent State of the City address. The Terraces will improve access to the river, and will bring families downtown and generate positive economic impact while beautifying our city.”

The Mayor underscored these investments as strategies that will yield the city a return on investment. “Investing in tourism attractions in this way will have great economic benefit for our city and improves our creative economy.”

The Mayor will present a complete budget proposal to Richmond City Council on Tuesday, March 6, 2012.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Mayor Jones Announces Leadership Team for World Cycling 2015

Mayor Dwight C. Jones announced today the selection of new members of the Board of Directors for Richmond 2015, the organization that will produce the 2015 Road World Cycling Championships. The board will be co-chaired by Mayor Jones and Thomas Farrell, the Chairman and CEO of Dominion Resources. The board appointed Jack Berry, Executive Director of Venture Richmond, as the interim CEO of Richmond 2015.

Mayor Jones, Farrell and Berry will serve as the Executive Committee, which will guide the organizational efforts to prepare the community to host the international cycling event. Other board members who have agreed to serve in leadership capacities include: Slaughter Fitz-Hugh, President and COO of CapTech Consulting, and 2011 United Way Campaign Chair; Jon Lugbill, Executive Director of Richmond Sports Backers; Byron Marshall, City’s Chief Administrative Officer; Julie Rautio, partner with Capital Results; Phil Hills, former Executive Vice President of the Lance Armstrong Foundation; Steve Piascik, President of Piascik and Associates, a CPA firm specializing in providing financial services to professional athletes; Cleo Battle, Vice President of the Richmond Convention and Visitors Bureau; Bob Blue, Senior Vice President of Dominion; and Ned Massee, Vice President of MeadWestvaco.

The full board of Directors, which is currently being recruited, will consist of approximately 50 individuals, including corporate and community leaders as well as local and national cycling experts. A National Honorary Board and a local Community Advisory Committee will be appointed in the coming months.

The board has engaged Medalist Sports, an Atlanta-based firm that produces the Tour of California, to manage the event. Medalist Sports is an international sports management company with experience over the last 20 years planning, promoting and managing events such as the Tour DuPont, Goodwill games, Tour of China, USA Cycling Professional Championships, Amgen Tour of California, and the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s LIVESTRONG Challenge Series.

Benedetti & Farris, a local fundraising and events firm, has been retained to develop the fundraising plan, which will rely largely on national sponsorships and corporate contributions to fund the $20 million event. Tim Miller, who developed and managed the former CapTech Classic Cycling event, will be the organization’s Chief Operating Officer.

In making the announcements, Mayor Jones said, “we’re ramping up the organizational infrastructure to produce one of the world’s biggest pro cycling events. While the event is still four years away, we’re not wasting any time in identifying the leadership team that will oversee every aspect of Richmond’s appearance on the world stage.”

Mayor Jones selected Berry as interim CEO, noting that “he performed the same role in organizing the community’s resources to produce the first National Folk Festival, which continues to be managed by Venture Richmond, and drew 200,000 participants last year. Jack’s job will be to assemble the team, engage corporate and civic leaders, and get everything organized while we seek a full time CEO to lead the effort.”

"The 2015 Road World Cycling Championships will showcase Richmond's world-class assets; its history, architecture, people and the James River,” said Thomas Farrell. “These championships serve to unite the community in common purpose to continue attracting major sporting and cultural events. We look forward to working with Mayor Jones to produce an event that all those living in the Richmond area can cheer for."

Jack Berry said, “First it was the Folk Festival that made the community feel proud. Then it was the VCU Final Four run that gave us a taste of greatness. The next logical step is to showcase RVA to an international audience.”

The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Road World Championships were awarded to Richmond on September 21, 2011. The event is expected to generate 450,000 on-site spectators and a worldwide television audience of 300 million viewers.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

City Upgrades 911 Phone System

Mayor Dwight C. Jones today announced the transition from an analog system to state-of-the-art digital technology for the Richmond Police Division of Emergency Communications 911 phone system.

After months of planning, implementation and training, the city’s new 911 phone system went live today in early morning hours. There was no interruption of 911 call service to city residents with the transition.

“This is a planned enhancement that was appropriated for in our current budget,” said Mayor Jones. “The new system puts the city in an improved posture to interface with emerging technologies as 911 standards evolve, to include texting and sending photos to emergency systems.”

Funding for the 911 phone system was appropriated in the FY2012 budget by Mayor Dwight C. Jones and Richmond City Council. The approved appropriation supports a five-year lease agreement to pay for the system via a leasing agent. In addition, the City of Richmond received a $150,000 grant from the Virginia Information Technologies Agency, responsible for the appropriation of wireless surcharge funds in support of the project. The total cost of the upgraded 911 system is $1.49 million.

“What residents will notice is an even quicker response to their calls,” said Jackie Crotts, the Department’s 911 system administrator. “Our 911 operation responded to 732,537 phone calls in 2011. Although 90% of those emergency calls were answered within two rings, the new system will help us even improve upon that performance.”

Mayor’s Commission on Pension Liability Assessment Issues Report

Mayor Dwight C. Jones today received the report of the Mayor’s Commission on Pension Liability Assessment. Key findings included recommendations to:

1. Continue the City’s long-standing practice of fully funding the actuarially required contribution to the Richmond Retirement System (RRS), as recommended by the actuary;

2. Consider adjusting the employer and employee contributions for current and future employees;

3. Consider realigning the pension benefit structure for senior-level employees including the vesting period to match the term of office of elected officials; or,

4. Consider moving senior-level employees to the Virginia Retirement System, both to reduce costs and to increase the pool of potential employees.

Commission Chair Robert M. Blue said that the RRS Board appeared to be a good steward of the pension system. “The investment performance in the RRS portfolio is excellent, and the Board has plotted a course that will re-build its funding ratios in the foreseeable future.”

The pension system’s funded status is less than adequate (58.6% versus a benchmark of 70%); in part due to recent economic declines. However, the City gets high marks on paying the annual actuarially required contribution recommended by the actuary, and for maintaining its pension liability at a relatively low percentage of the City’s operating budget (5% as compared to a 10% benchmark). The RRS Board has also recently reduced its investment earning assumptions, which is a fiscally conservative move. Bond rating analysts balance these factors, along with the fiscal health of the City’s finances as a whole. Strong reserves in “rainy day funds” are considered to be one of the City’s top fiscal goals.

The Commission also noted that the City had taken a big step to control costs in 2006. At that point, it ended its pension (Defined Benefit) system for new general employees, and offered a Defined Contribution plan in its place. “It is important for the City and the Retirement Board to continue to look for cost controlling measures for its retirement program, just as the state, other governments and the private sector are doing,” said Ronald L. Tillett, Commission member and Chair of the RRS Board. “The RRS benefits need to help attract and retain employees, and be managed in a way that protects employees’ and the City’s assets.”

The Commission also found that the City’s pension benefit to senior executives appears good in concept, but has become an illusory benefit. Without the protections of classified employees, senior executives serve at the pleasure of elected officials who have four-year terms. Yet, the pension plan provides benefits only after the employee has five or ten years of service. These provisions worked under the City Manager form of government, but are less realistic under the current system, with four-year terms for all governing officials and a Mayoral two-term limit.

In addition, when local independent retirement systems offer benefits that are different from those obtained from the Virginia Retirement System (VRS), recruitment and retention of workers from the state or other local governments can be negatively affected. VRS serves 829 political entities in the state. Only ten localities have independent retirement systems, including Richmond.

In accepting the report of the commission, Mayor Jones reiterated some of the reasons for asking for review. “It is paramount that the City of Richmond keeps its promises to its employees in regard to their retirement benefits. My goal is to make sure that the pension obligations to our employees are being met. In addition, I asked for a look at how the City can enhance its ability to attract and retain a highly qualified workforce. This commission met my expectations for its work, and has given me and City Council good guidance on potential next steps.”

Members of the Commission included: Robert M. Blue (Chair) (Senior Vice President – Law, Public Policy, and Environment, Dominion Resources), Regina J. Elbert (Senior Counsel, Dominion Resources, and formerly of McGuire Woods), Jerry P. Fox (Cherry, Bekaert & Holland), Marcus D. Jones (City Manager, City of Norfolk), Ronald L. Tillett (Managing Director, Investment Banking, Morgan Keegan & Company, Inc.), and Jody M. Wagner (former Virginia Secretary of Finance).