Richmond Is Rolling on the River

By Sara Delgado, September 6, 2018

After the $5.5 million purchase of the 12-field River City Sportsplex in 2017, Richmond, Virginia, is positioned as an East Coast powerhouse for sports. This massive purchase in Chesterfield County isn’t the region’s only big move. Henrico County invested $11 million in the first phase of Glover Park. Over time, local officials believe these investments will pay for themselves.

The demand is there. Biking, whitewater rafting and other outdoorsy activities are a popular part of the region’s culture. Couple that with a thriving craft brew and culinary scene, and it’s easy to see why “River City” is drawing comparisons to West Coast millennial hubs Seattle and Portland. “It’s about what visitors can find both on and off the field,” says Danielle Vincenti, senior sports development manager at Richmond Region Tourism.

Five hours from Philadelphia and Charlotte, North Carolina, respectively—with Washington, D.C., two hours away—Richmond is a welcoming destination in more ways than one. Its Southern hospitality has made the region popular among LGBT groups. Richmond is the best of both worlds for someone like Ian Johnston, director of diversity and inclusion at the Sports Diversity Leadership Council.

“It’s easy to see Richmond has transformed into a cultural hub, a center of diversity and an advocate for LGBTQ rights, as well as a world-class athletic destination,” says Johnston, who attended a Connect-sponsored field trip in May.

What’s the secret to the region’s success? Its homegrown approach, including the CVB’s partnerships with other local entities, is reinforcing Richmond as a major sports tourism destination.

Hiring From Within

When it comes to teambuilding in Richmond, there’s no need to look outside the commonwealth. The relationship Richmond Region Tourism has crafted with the Center for Sport Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University gives students and graduates a clear track to reinvest in Virginia.

Greg Burton, the center’s director of communications and engagement, preaches a strong message of getting every graduate a job—in state, preferably. With an alumni network of more than 500 graduates working in all areas of sport, it’s no wonder the CSL program has enjoyed a 98 percent employment rate for the last two years. This unique program offered at VCU is just one of the many traits that gives Richmond its sports-focused identity.

Rich in Venues 

Greater Richmond Convention Center. Located downtown, the 700,000-sq.-ft. facility spans five and a half city blocks. Inside, there’s 178,000 square feet of contiguous space for indoor competitions like taekwondo and cheer and dance, as well as a 30,000-sq.-ft. ballroom for awards banquets.

SwimRVA Collegiate School Aquatics Center. The centerpiece of the 54,000-sq.-ft. complex—the pool—was used in USA Swimming’s 2008 Olympic trials in Omaha, Nebraska, before setting anchor in Richmond.

Virginia State University Multipurpose Center. Located 20 miles south of Richmond, this multipurpose center and arena can seat more than 6,000.

River City Sportsplex. This 115-acre athletic complex features 12 lighted synthetic fields. It’s hosted several lacrosse, soccer, flag football and field hockey tournaments.

Glover Park. Phase one of the 88-acre complex, opened in March, included eight NCAA-standard sand volleyball courts and four lighted multipurpose fields. More is on the horizon at this new facility, Vincenti says.