Boulevard


We should know soon what the new face of the Boulevard between Broad and 95/64 will be.  According to the TD, the city is hiring a consultant who will search for developers:

Richmond plans to hire a consultant next month to run a nationwide search for developers to transform the park and surrounding area along the Boulevard, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Harry E. Black said yesterday.

The process will hopefully culminate in January when projects and financing will be made known.  The Braves hoped-for new ballpark is on hold until a developer is chosen to remake the whole area.  The proposed aquatics center is also on hold during this process.

Harry Black is promising that this new development will be big.  Huge.  Monumental.

[D]evelopers have suggested to [Black] they would like to build a million square feet of stores — roughly the size of the $153 million White Oak Village development now under construction in eastern Henrico County.

Wilder has also weighed in with his goals (emphasis mine):

Mayor L. Douglas Wilder is seeking a large development for the Boulevard, anchored by sports and entertainment facilities, Black said. That could include a hotel, shopping and other sports facilities, as well as parking for large numbers of cars.

Back in March, I was pontificating on the redevelopment of this corridor, and I wrote:

With all this interest in the under-utilized Boulevard corridor, the question remains whether development of the neighborhood will happen haphazardly; preferences given to any developer, school, or interest-group who has money. Or will the city develop a new master plan for the area, guiding and facilitating the transformation of the neighborhood into a coherent, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use place to live, work and play?

I guess we have an answer- our elected and unelected politicians are going to choose a corporate developer to remake the Boulevard.  I was hoping for another charette, or perhaps a simple town meeting or two.  Maybe that’s still possible, but if this process works in a typical fashion, the public will be responding to, rather than creating, a proposal.

The chosen developer will also be creating proposals for 6th St. Marketplace as well as, enigmatically, “one other part of the city.”

This news is indeed important- for the face of one (or more) of our city neighborhoods is about to change dramatically.  Stay tuned- it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

Richmond Braves baseball will stay on the Boulevard- either with a renovated Diamond or a new stadium, according to James L. Jenkins, chairman of the Richmond Metropolitan Authority board of directors [via].

The good news there is that the matter is settled- no more proposals for ballparks in the Bottom, or Fulton Gas Works, or the suburbs. Now energy can finally be focused on redeveloping the Boulevard neighborhood, which is exactly what Wilder is proposing:

“The city is asking for proposals by consultants, who would look for developers with ideas about how best to use the 60 acres Richmond owns between the Boulevard, Interstate 95, Hermitage Road and the CSX railroad tracks. The mayor wants a mixture of commercial, office and residential uses to be considered.”

There has been no commitment made to keeping the Diamond- only to keeping a baseball stadium on the Boulevard. So it seems the whole city-owned portion of the neighborhood is up for grabs.

The TD also mentions the planned $7 million Poseidon Swim Club facility and VCU’s interest in building tennis courts. Absent is any discussion of moving the coliseum that the paper has previously discussed.

Let’s hope that whatever consultants the city chooses will put together decent proposals, and maybe even solicit public input as Petersburg recently did.

*UPDATE – 7/4/07* Kaine and Wilder are proposing that the city and state swap land to facilitate the redevelopment of Boulevard- the city would give up the coliseum land and the state would give up the 19 -acre ABC warehouse on Hermitage . Read more here.

I’m losing count of how many times I’ve posted about plans for the Boulevard area.

Today’s TD features a column titled, “Renovate The Diamond and replace the Coliseum;” the title pretty much sums up the content. The author presents some rough financial figures to bolster his argument. He also echoes the idea floated in Style a month ago to relocate the Coliseum replacement in the Boulevard corridor, in order to “create a total sports complex in one area…”

And so, as long as we’re rehashing ideas in the public sphere, I’ll repeat myself:

Let’s have some meaningful community input into planning the future of the Boulevard. It’s hotly contested space experiencing rapid change, with multiple expensive proposals being floated. Why not ask the people who’re buying condos, renting lofts, going to sports events, or working in the neighborhood what they would like to see? Why not copy Petersburg and bring in some experts to consult with the community?

It’s time to stop the behind-closed-doors deals promising taxpayer funds or tax breaks for development the taxpayers have no say in. If you’re spending my money, at least have the decency to ask what I’d like you to buy for me.

And just for fun, here’s an old rendering I found of a new ballpark for the R-Braves by HKS architects. Does anyone know the history of this image? Was this a serious proposal at some point? Where was it to be located?

richmond_new_1.jpg

It is not the rendering I saw for the proposed Shockoe Bottom stadium, which used the same architecture firm. That proposal is below:

f2_constructing_pix3.jpg

Among other things, you can get info for your blog, maybe even break news before the corporate media does.

Buttermilk & Molasses reports on conversations he’s had in his neighborhood with several new business owners.

Read his blog for info on “two new restaurants, a flower shop, an ice cream shop and a dog park” coming soon to Northside.  You’ll find all sorts of detailed info about a new restaurant, Kitchen 64 -the chef will be Stella from the old Stella’s in the fan, to open soon on North Boulevard.  The owner also has plans to turn the Nacho Mama’s take-out spot up there into an ice cream shop.

Petersburg is, arguably, in much worse shape than Richmond. The national trends of white flight, sprawl, and downtown neglect hit Petersburg hard. But some committed individuals are doing an amazing job of creating a community that’s truly invested in the future of the city.

In fact, they’ve just released a comprehensive plan for redeveloping their downtown and waterfront. Here’s where Richmond should pay attention. Instead of bowing to the whims of every corporate executive with an idea (whether for their company or some “public interest” group like the VAPAF)- Petersburg did something remarkable- they used experts and talked to residents:

For four days, a group of volunteer architects, students, urban planners and community development experts from around the country scoured downtown Petersburg while interviewing locals, examining the cityscape and looking for ways to invigorate change and growth within the city.
From a Richmond.com article

They invited a group called the Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team program, or R/UDAT (pronounced roo-dat).

From R/UDAT’s website:

What can R/UDAT do for your community?

Communities across the country are constantly changing. Some of the challenges they encounter include the loss of major employers, new bypass roads, gridlock, unfocused suburban growth, crime, loss of open space, regional conflict, unaffordable housing, abandoned mills and industrial plants, environmental problems, vacant storefronts, and loss of identity. A R/UDAT can help you to respond to these kinds of issues, develop a vision for a better future for your community, and implement a strategy that will produce results. Because the R/UDAT process is highly flexible, it is effective in communities as small as villages and urban neighborhoods and as large as metropolitan regions.

Why does the R/UDAT process work?

The process works because it relies on three simple principles.

Quality: Team members are highly respected, interdisciplinary professionals selected on the basis of their experience with the specific issues facing your community. The energy and creativity that are generated by a top-notch, multidisciplinary team of professionals working collaboratively can produce extraordinary results.

Objectivity: Many communities are immobilized by conflicting agendas, politics, personalities, or even the overabundance of opportunity. The R/UDAT process ensures that all voices are given a fair hearing and that options are weighed impartially. The lack of bias, professional stature of the team members, and pro bono nature of the work generate community respect and enthusiasm for the process.

Public Participation: The process encourages the active participation of all sectors of the community. A common sentiment expressed after a R/UDAT is: “This experience really brought the community together. People who never talked before are now working together.”

How revolutionary is that? Using experts and asking for residents’ input! Contrast that with how Style reports that plans for redeveloping the Boulevard corridor are being made:

[Council President] Pantele has been working behind the scenes for more than a year with developers interested in the Boulevard area for retail development.

Or, if you’ve been living in a cave and haven’t already, head to SaveRichmond.com to read in-depth criticism of the rich-white-men-behind-closed-doors approach to supporting the arts community and redeveloping downtown.

Kudos to Petersburg, and to whoever got R/UDAT involved. To quote the co-chair of the Downtown Harbor Initiative, “This is the result of a public planning process. This is the community’s vision for its city.”

Oh, and here’s their plan – and here’s hoping it comes to fruition.

And maybe Richmond will take notice.

Yet another proposal for the Boulevard surfaces in this week’s Style: put the Coliseum there.

I’ve already written about all the big plans for the area: renovate or rebuild the Diamond, a new aquatics center, VCU tennis complex and dorms; then there’s the smaller, less news-generating plans which are already moving forward: restaurants, condos, apartments.

And I’ve advocated on this blog for the city coming up with a master plan for the area- preferably utilizing the intellectual capital of our local urban planning experts on city staff and at VCU and with significant citizen input (that’s opposed to the politician-developer behind-closed-doors model referenced in the Style article).

And here’s one more reason for prioritizing that master plan:

Where to move the Coliseum? That’s the $200 million question. The most obvious answer is the Boulevard, near The Diamond and Sports Backers Stadium, where the city owns property and the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control operates a distribution center. If those properties can be reconfigured, the sky’s the limit.
Pantele has been working behind the scenes for more than a year with developers interested in the Boulevard area for retail development.

So let’s see: retail development (I remember rumors of big box stores like Best Buy), sports complexes, VCU dorms, and now the Coliseum? Does anyone have any clue what they’re doing? Or is it whoever comes up with the money first? Shouldn’t we, like, I don’t know, decide what we want our city to be like and try to build it?

Today’s Times-Dispatch reports on efforts to build a swimming complex on the Boulevard to attract both regional and national swimming competitions. Details here.

Apparently this isn’t the first attempt to build such facilities in Richmond, but this time backers aren’t asking for city funds- which apparently held the project up in the past. Poseidon Swimming Foundation is planning on raising the estimated $7 million from private sources.

Of course, with all this interest in the under-utilized Boulevard corridor, the question remains whether development of the neighborhood will happen haphazardly; preferences given to any developer, school, or interest-group who has money. Or will the city develop a new master plan for the area, guiding and facilitating the transformation of the neighborhood into a coherent, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use place to live, work and play? Only time will tell- but I’m afraid that the Braves, Poseidon, VCU and others will use their influence to achieve their own dreams for the site without any overall plan.

Mayor Wilder alludes to the uncertainty in the area in the TD article, specifically regarding the future of the Diamond:

“The actual location of The Diamond, if this is to be a new facility, affects much of our determination,” Wilder said this week. “This has to be settled, and it has not been.”

Let’s hope that Wilder and the city form a commission – with meaningful citizen input & drawing on the intellectual resources we have in VCU’s urban studies and planning department- to put together a master plan for the area. Nevertheless, it’s exciting to see continued interest in the city and I like any plan that raises Richmond’s profile nationally, as the Poseidon plan would do.

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