And now they have the Redskins’ training camp, which doesn’t exactly make Richmond a major league town but lets it feel like one for a while and lets it dream about maybe becoming one.
For three weeks, charismatic VCU basketball coach Shaka Smart won’t be the biggest name in area sports. That will be RG3, who drew loud applause just for showing up in the field Thursday along with Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and pretty much anybody else wearing a burgundy-and-gold uniform.
The Redskins are already popular in town. The team said 5 percent of its season-ticket base has a Richmond-area ZIP code. Now they’re in town.
“The Redskins have a huge fan base in the area and that’s only going to increase by having the training camp here,” Jones, the mayor, said. “The first-hand encounters with the players are really going to be huge.”
Jones is a bit of a dreamer, probably a good trait to have in a mayor. He sees training camp as not the end of a quest but the beginning. Who had Oklahoma City as a pro town a dozen or so years ago? While Oklahoma City is more than twice as big as Richmond in terms of population in the city, the metropolitan areas are similar in size at about 1.2 million.
“I think it is kind of like a coming-out party,” Jones said. “If we can do this, maybe we can do something else. It is whetting people’s appetites. It is an opportunity to say we can compete. If Oklahoma City can do it, we can do it, too. To me, Oklahoma City seems kind of like a miracle with what they’ve been able to accomplish. They had the will to get it done.
“Richmond, being on the East Coast with good population and demographics, should be able to get it done. You really have to be thinking of the next levels: Where do we go from here? Are we going to be satisfied or are we going to push the envelope on sports?”
Richmond still needs a new coliseum to replace the 41-year-old relic that sits downtown. It needs a new baseball stadium, lest it lose another team. Those projects will be bigger and much more expensive than a training camp facility.
“Vision is something everybody likes to talk about. At some point, you have to move on all those visions,” Burton said. “I think Richmond is starting to do that. I look at the 15-year snapshot since I’ve been here and this is a different town.
“We need a new coliseum. We need a new stadium for the Flying Squirrels. The better your facilities, the more legit you become. This was a huge first step. Can Richmond ever support a [major] pro sports team? I don’t know if it can for 52 weeks, or for a full season. We can for three weeks.”