Layout of VCU’s 42-acre athletics village is becoming clear

The planning for Virginia Commonwealth University’s 42-acre athletics village is nearing completion. The university expects to begin demolition of the already-standing buildings and construction next year.

Similar to an Olympic village, the complex will house a tennis facility and soccer stadium on the north end, near Interstate 95. The middle parcel will hold an indoor track, and the southern parcels will be converted into outdoor track and field and practice soccer fields.

VCU faces a tight timeline for construction, given that the current home for VCU’s track and soccer teams — Sports Backers Stadium — will be razed to make way for the new professional baseball stadium opening in 2025.

The athletics village is “one of the largest undertakings in the university’s history,” athletics director Ed McLaughlin told the school’s board of visitors earlier this month. He called it a necessary investment for the success and aspirations of the school’s Division I teams.

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A total cost for construction has not been determined. VCU already spent about $40 million acquiring land, though the state reimbursed the school for a portion of the funds.

Here’s a look at the individual pieces:

Tennis facility: VCU plans to build 12 outdoor tennis courts and six indoor courts where the old Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control warehouse stands. The courts will be open to the public when they are not being used by the university, McLaughlin said, adding that Richmond is the only capital city in the country without an indoor public tennis facility.

VCU plans to memorialize local tennis legend Arthur Ashe at the facility. A rendering of the building shows an enlarged image of Ashe on the wall.

Building new tennis courts is a priority for the university, because VCU plans to bulldoze its on-campus courts to make way for a new student center.

“There’s urgency for us to get tennis built and move our tennis functions off” where they are now, McLaughlin said.

Soccer stadium: The university intends to build a new soccer stadium next to the tennis facility, also in the area of the ABC warehouse. McLaughlin previously said the stadium will hold about 4,000 spectators with room for expansion.

Indoor track: The middle parcel, in between Sherwood Avenue and Cummings Drive, will be the site of an indoor track and indoor courts. The parcel was previously owned by Bourne Enterprises.

The VCU track team does not have its own indoor facility and is in “desperate need” of one, McLaughlin said. With no indoor track facility in the Richmond area, high school track teams often travel to the Hampton Roads area for winter track meets.

The facility can hold some of the events currently hosted by the nearby Arthur Ashe Center, McLaughlin said. The plan to redevelop The Diamond calls for the Ashe Center’s removal.

McLaughlin called the indoor track building a “true community facility.”

Sherwood Avenue will remain open, running in between the soccer stadium and the indoor track, the athletics director added. It’s unclear if Cummings Drive, which is one block south, will remain open.

Outdoor track: The outdoor track will be built on the southern parcels, which were the previous homes to Greyhound Lines, the Salvation Army and the James River Distillery.

The outdoor track will replace Sports Backers Stadium, though it’s unclear if the new facility will carry the Sports Backers name, McLaughlin said.

Sports Backers, the authority that operates the Monument Avenue 10K and marathon, has offices inside the 3,200-seat Sports Backers stadium and expects to have office space in the new athletics village.

VCU, which owns Sports Backers Stadium, intends to sell it to the city of Richmond. The city, in turn, will demolish it to make way for the new professional baseball stadium due to open in 2025.

It’s unclear when VCU will sell the property or how much the city will pay.

Since Sports Backers Stadium is the current home to VCU’s track and soccer teams, VCU will need new facilities for those teams before 2025. The men’s and women’s soccer teams might play temporarily at the new track facility while they await construction of their own stadium.

Adjacent to the outdoor track, VCU will build practice soccer fields. These fields may not be open to the public, McLaughlin said.

VCU intends to keep the existing fields on Cary Street, which are used by the field hockey and lacrosse teams and for intramural sports.

The university will not use tax dollars to finance construction of the athletics village, said Karol Kain Gray, the school’s chief financial officer. Instead, the complex will be funded by athletics fees, other student fees and fundraising.

This year, VCU charged students an athletics fee of $1,104, a 19% increase compared with last year.

There are challenges to financing the project, McLaughlin said, given inflation’s impact on the cost of raw materials, such as steel. Another barrier: attracting donations in an uncertain economic climate.

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