Buried in one of those “Top US cities for fill-in-the-blank” articles posted on Yahoo! News, was Richmond’s place as number one on the list of highest rental vacancy rates in the country. This article is about “America’s emptiest cities,” and the mention of Richmond is excerpted below:

Still, empty neighborhoods are becoming an increasingly daunting problem across the country. The national rental vacancy rate now stands at 10.1%, up from 9.6% a year ago; homeowner vacancy has edged up from 2.8% to 2.9%. Richmond, Va.’s rental vacancy rate of 23.7% is the worst in America, while Orlando’s 7.4% rate is lousiest on the homeowner side. Detroit and Las Vegas are among the worst offenders by both measures–the Motor City sports vacancy rates of 19.9% for rentals and 4% for homes; Sin City has rates of 16% and 4.7%, respectively. [emphasis added]

Nevertheless, our homeowner vacany rates must be incredibly low because we don’t make it on the top 15 list overall.

Anyone know why our rental vacancies are so high?

**Update- 2/17  12:30 pm.  Make sure you read the comments- the story is further explained by readers more knowledgable than I am.

I received an announcement about the restoration of Church Hill’s historic Robinson Theater via email and am sharing this good news here.

Too often my desire to see a renewed city comes into conflict with my desire for a more just social order in Richmond.  Too often historic preservationists, developers, and business entrepreneurs line up against those seeking affordable housing, alternatives to heavy prison sentences, and redistribution of wealth.

This project, however, marries all of these concerns in a way that, hopefully, will inspire similar actions in our community.  A significant piece of African-American history has been preserved, and remade from a blighted property into a community arts center.  Read on:

Richmond, Virginia (February 11, 2009) – After its 20-year desolation, the Robinson Theater located in North Church Hill has been revived once more. The first African American theater in the area now shows itself as the Robinson Theater Community Arts Center providing a vibrant and welcoming environment to all the neighbors.

With the construction in 1936, the Robinson Theater was named after Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, a native Richmonder well-known for being the “World’s Best Tap Dancer”. Films, singers, dancers, comedians and other live performers lit up the stage on a regular basis.

“It’s time to bring back the ‘hub’ of the community as the Robinson Theater was referred to back in the 1930s,” expressed Betsy Hart, Executive Director of Robinson Theater Community Arts Center. As the neighborhood respects this historic name, the goal is to keep it alive by opening its doors for activity for a new generation to enjoy. Its effectiveness will be realized through partnerships with fellow community leaders and residents.

With the same building and new vision, the community arts center will provide after-school programs for the youth such as dance, drama and art classes along with community events for all ages to participate. Saturday matinees will be one of the ways to renew the fond memories of the elderly and enjoy an inexpensive movie in their own backyard again.

The Grand Opening and Illumination for the newly renovated Robinson Theater will be held on Saturday, February 21 from 3-5 p.m. The afternoon will consist of an open house with short tours of the facility, opportunities to know more about becoming a Friend of the Robinson, and register for upcoming classes. Light refreshments will be served and music from Making a Melody featuring David Bailey. The illumination of the 1936 Robinson Theater marquee replica will conclude the event along with remarks from Delegate Delores McQuinn. All are welcome and encouraged to attend.

Betsy Hart, Executive Director
Robinson Theater Community Arts Center
(804) 310-2887

A Chipotle spokesperson confirms that the company will build its 8th store on Grace St., on the site of the old Pizza Hut, in the heart of the VCU campus.

This rumor was confirmed by the Times Dispatch this morning.

I’ve eaten at Cous Cous twice recently, and both times had an incredible experience.

The first was after working all weekend, my colleagues and I went there to celebrate the conclusion of a successful project on a busy Saturday night.  We got there early before the crowds, and as we left, there was a long line.

We made good use of the tapas concept and ordered a bunch of dishes:

  • Flaming sheep’s milk cheese served over apples with pita wedges
  • Cous Cous with moroccan vegetables
  • Paella with mock chicken
  • Smoked salmon on potato pancakes
  • Sweet corn fritters with chipotle creme fraiche
  • Lentil soup
  • Crispy eggplant with apricot marmalade

The flaming cheese, which was brought to our table still on fire (and most of the other tables too- it’s a popular dish), was easily the best dish I’ve had in Richmond.  I’ve had flaming cheese at a Greek restaurant in Detroit before, it was incredible. But the addition of tart green apples took this over the top- the nuttiness of the cheese with the tart apples and toasted pita was a perfect combination.

The Cous Cous, which should be a signature dish as its the restaurant’s namesake, was too dry.  It was well-spiced with a good mix of vegetables, but that couldn’t compensate for the dryness. But that was the only disappointment out of all the main dishes.

The Paella was unlike Spanish paella, a very different flavor palate was used- a spice I couldn’t quite identify.  It was outstanding, and satisfyingly different than any dishes available in other Richmond restaurants.  And the mock chicken is some of the best in town.

The smoked salmon was excellent- high quality fish, well smoked, with a creamy horseradish-dill-caper sauce. The sauce could have used more heat from the horseradish. The potato pancakes were well executed- not too starchy and they cohered well. Their flavor was overwhelmed a bit by the salmon and the sauce.

The sweet corn fritters were amazing.  Perfectly fried tiny bites of sweetness which paired nicely with the smokey-rich chipotle creme fresh dip.

The lentil soup was filling, thick, but not heavily flavored.  It was a solid dish, but I wouldn’t order it again as I prefer lentil dishes that are more strongly spiced.

Finally the crispy eggplant was surprising- very lightly fried, well cooked (not too tough or too soft), and well-seasoned.  The apricot marmalade was very sweet, but if used sparingly was a nice foil for the meatiness of the eggplant.

We then ordered desert- a flourless chocolate cake and baklava, with espresso and coffee.  By that time, the restaurant was packed, and service had ground to a halt.  Desert took an agonizingly long time to come- we’d all finished our coffee before it came.  I’ve since decided desert and coffee aren’t worth the time & money there.  No one was impressed with their coffee, the baklava was too dry, and the chocolate cake was rich and dense, but not particularly noteworthy.

Nevertheless I had such a great meal that I went back a week later with my wife.  We ordered the two standouts from my previous meal- the paella and the flaming cheese.  We added wilted spinach with currants, pine nuts, and apples, and seared scallops in a coconut curry sauce.  Both were excellent additions.  The paella disappointed slightly with too many artichokes- a problem absent the first time.  But the spicing was still right on.  The scallops were phenomenal, perfectly cooked with a slightly sweet curry sauce that I wanted to mop up every bit of.

Cous cous has become my one of my favorite restaurants in town.  An extensive array of dishes, which I haven’t even come close to exploring, and very little disappointment out of the 9 dishes I’ve tried so far.

And by all means, try the flaming cheese.  It’s incredible.

If you make driving difficult…people take public transit!  DC Metro set a one-day ridership record- as of 7 pm, more than 973,000 people had ridden the metro- breaking the previous record of 887,000.  Those are some serious numbers, and without the last 5 hours of the day counted!

It wasn’t just the popularity of our current president creating this bump in transit-use.  From a Times-Dispatch article:

One of the contributing factors in the heavy ridership was a decision by federal authorities to close all bridges from northern Virginia into Washington, limiting vehicle access to the city.

I’m trying to figure out how this lesson applies to Richmond.  So far, I’ve got nothing.

The Times-Dispatch reveals details on the financing of the proposed Shockoe baseball park (formerly known as a stadium):

Officials emphasized that the deal would be structured so that private investors — not city taxpayers — would be on the hook if revenue fails to cover debt payments.

The article goes into great detail about the proposed funding structure.  It’s good news that they politicians and developers have gotten the message that taxpayers should NOT be on the hook for failed private investments.

Also, we learn that we are not to refer to the development as a stadium, but rather a ballpark:

Kreckman [vice president with developer Highwoods Properties] emphasized that what’s planned is a “ballpark” rather than a “stadium.” A ballpark is “very fan-friendly, very intimate,” he said.

That didn’t stop the TD from titling their article, “Stadium planners want multiuse park.”

Introducing Riverbank Terraces Riverbank rendering
Four floors, one roof-top deck and absolutly no one between you and the river.

Introducing Riverbank Terraces Riverbank rendering Four floors, one roof-top deck and absolutely no one between you and the river…. Plus, each home features an elevator to help you relish each of the four floors – from the terrace that opens directly on to the soon-to-be-built Virginia Capital Trail to the rooftop deck that offers uninterrupted views of the Richmond skyline.

I received this via email today.  Ironically, even though your terrace will open onto the “soon-to-be-built Virginia Capital Trail,” there will be “absolutely no one between you and the river.”

So I guess they figure no one will use the trail… or perhaps it just doesn’t sell townhouses if you promise a steady flow of traffic by your terrace.

The Shockoe Ballpark proposal has a new ally.  Time will tell if it’s a new and also powerful ally.  His name is Del. G. Manoli Loupassi,who has proposed a bill in the General Assembly to fund a ballpark with tax dollars. I don’t remember his role in the ballpark planning while he represented the 1st District on city council.

According to today’s Times-Dispatch:

The proposal would apply only to the state’s 4 percent portion of sales taxes generated by the stadium and structures associated with it, potentially hotels and retail and office space.

Diverting tax money from the development to pay off the development seems like a good financing plan to me.  The devil is in the details, however.

It was unclear yesterday exactly how much money might be available and what would happen if revenues aren’t sufficient to cover bond payments. Officials with Richmond Baseball Club LC, a group led by Highwoods Properties, said they would elaborate today.

In another, perhaps more interesting development, the ballpark development group has hired state Sen. Henry L. Marsh III as their lobbyist.

Marsh, as many of you know, represents Richmond in the state Sentate, is a former Richmond mayor, and mentor to new General Assembly delegate Delores McQuinn.

Delegate McQuinn is the political sponsor of the Richmond City Counil’s Slave Trail Commission.  The word on the street is that she will not be giving up her seat on the commission as she moves from city to state politician.

My hope is that the McQuinn-Marsh relationship will help advance the cause of memorializing the ugly history of Shockoe, which the Slave Trail Commission has championed effectively,  and not subsume that important effort to other political goals. Because as much as I’d like to see surface lots in Shockoe disappear and life returned to that neighborhood, I’d like even more to see the hsitory that’s been paved over for so long properly acknowledged.

The times dispatch displayed this picture and headline about Wilder on their website today:


Seriously?  Wilder riding a bus? As the picture for an article about how much money he’ll be making?  There’s no mention of buses, GRTC, public transit, or anything besides Wilder’s fat VCU salary in the article.  Not even in the photo caption.

There was, however, mention of VCU’s “buyer’s remorse,”

VCU Rector Thomas Rosenthal said yesterday that Wilder’s new salary was negotiated in May, after the mayor decided he would not seek re-election.

“I can honestly say we were not aware of the depth of the problem” the university would face in the state budget crisis, Rosenthal said.

I live in a part of town where I’m a racial minority.  I’m white, most of my neighbors are black.  Tonight as I was walking home from a friendsplace, a police car rolled up next to me and the officer rolled down his window.

I was totally vibing to a new song I’d discovered on my craigslist-purchased ipod.  I’m embarrassed to say what the song was.  But I was listening to it for the 10th time that day.

When I noticed the police car driving slowly along next to me, I took out my headphones to listen to the cop.

“Do you live up here?”



Here I should point out that I’ve heard of other white folks in my neighborhood being given a hard time for walking down the street- presumed to be in the neighborhood to buy drugs or sex- and I always imagined that if I were in their shoes I’d be witty, brilliant, and totally put the cops in their place.

“On W St.,”  I said.

Witty.  Biting sarcasm.  Oh well.  He was a cop.

“What’s your address?” the cop pressed further.

Here’s the part of the story where I should tell you how I put the cop in his place, pointed out his stereotyping behavior, and totally remade the social order in Richmond.

Instead, I told him my address.
He drove off.

Maybe next time…