Downtown


Saxbys, a chain coffee shop, has opened a franchise in downtown Richmond at Belvidere and Franklin. They’re hoping to capture some of the VCU market, according to yesterday’s TD article. There’s already stiff coffee shop competition around VCU’s neighborhood: Common Groundz, Crossroads (formerly World Cup), Harrison St., Common Cup, Starbucks, and probably one or two more I’m forgetting.

They’re also across Belvidere from most of the VCU campus, which is both a physical and a psychological barrier. Of course, VCU’s campus just moved east across Belvidere a block south, so perhaps that won’t be an issue.

And for you bargain hunters, while walking by today I noticed a banner advertising that if you buy a $10 gift card, they’ll add $10 to it for a limited time.

And, as reported elsewhere in the blogosphere (RVA Foodie being the first), Trader Joe’s may be coming to Richmond. The TD confirms:

The California-based chain is close to signing a deal to put a store in the Short Pump Station shopping center…

Hayden Fisher, an attorney at Shaffer & Cabell & partner in real estate development group Prodigy Partnership, commented on an earlier blog post with an update on their progress on the “art-gallery themed restaurant” named Canvas:

Just checking-in to let everyone know that we’re still working on the Canvas design and working with DHR to finalize the plans. We couldn’t get everything put together by December so we decided not to rush things; in order to take our time delivering a truly special space and experience. And we haven’t forgotten about Manchester either, we’ll get there too and return a special diner experience to the area. Thanks for your support and patience.

The pace of development is excruciatingly slow, not just on this project but on most redevelopment efforts.  I first blogged about this in March!

And then there are those tantalizing proposals that seem to get stuck somewhere along the line…

What should be built on the banks of our “great wet central park”? The mayor’s marina? The developers’ condos? Or the environmentalists’ parkland?

This question seems to vex our politicians, according to the TD.

But the city’s quest for a marina and more parkland along the James River faces scrutiny from a skeptical City Council and developers who have other ideas how to use the land.

Ahh, the cozy warm feelings I get when “City Council and developers” are mentioned in the same sentence.

For grammatical and conceptual clarity, I’d love to know who the “who” is in the phrase “who have other ideas…” Does it refer to the developers only? Or both the council and developers?

Oh the curse of English language ambiguities. And shoddy journalism.

At issue seems to be the Echo Harbor development, which council might support(?), and Wilder apparently opposes.

“We have made it clear that we’re not interested in any of these high-rise apartments on the river,” Wilder said after a recent public appearance.

Really? None? I thought Wilder had bought a high-rise condo unit on the river. So I guess the “any” refers to future riverfront condos? Or just ones where he wants his marina?

Well, whatever our politicians think, I have a suggestion. And I’m confident all my loyal readers will rally around and help change the political discourse in this town, right?

So without further ado, here’s my idea: Build them all. Here’s some pictures from a city that’s done just that.

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Vancouver’s Coal Harbour (before being built out).

Notice the strip of green and the little circle of green. Those are waterfront parks. There’s a walkway/bicycle path along the entire length of the waterfront, and a marina. And those 3 high-rises closest to the green space are condos (more have been built since this picture was taken).

Here’s some additional pictures:

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One of the waterfront parks with landscaping and public art, photo by mussels.

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The marina, notice the walkway/bicycle path along the water. Photo by camera obscura.

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All the shiny condos with a waterfront walkway/bicycle path. Photo by mussels.

OK, I know you’re sick of my endless promotion of Vancouver, BC. But as I was reading the TD’s account of political bickering, I thought to myself, why can’t we make everyone happy for a change?

Vancouver’s Coal Harbour was a waterfront industrial wasteland that was turned into a public asset with a waterfront promenade, sidewalk cafes, parks, a community centre, and living spaces. And if you want a piece of that real estate, it’ll cost you more than a few loonies. Check it out here.

Sounds a bit like our own James River- Lucky Strike, Lehigh Cement, Fulton gas works… Now Tobacco Row, Vistas on the James, Rocketts Landing. There’s no reason that waterfront condos necessarily preclude parks, marinas, and public access to the river when planned and built well.

And that’s all I’m saying. I’m not supporting the Echo Harbor proposal (nor am I opposing it). I’m not suggesting we copy Vancouver’s architectural aesthetic.

I’m suggesting that when it comes to developing the waterfront of the James River, it’s possible to have your cake and eat it too.

The first shows have been scheduled for the National, starting in February!  Here’s the lineup so far:

Friday, 2/22:  Dark Star Orchestra
Wed 02/27: Dickey Betts & Great Southern
Sun 03/02: Flogging Molly
Sun 03/09: Three Days Grace
Fri 03/28: Drive-By Truckers

You can keep up with the bookings at Pollstar.com.

The theater also has a myspace page (with over 500 friends, shows you where I’ve been…)  and now its own webpage (content is still being added).  Thanks to handful of brains to pointing this out.

A reader pointed me to his picture of the replacement building for VCU’s soon-to-be-demolished Larrick Center.

Here’s a photo of the rendering , thanks to Taber:

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Photo by taberandrew, used with permission

Well, it’s certainly not as architecturally distinctive as the building it’s replacing.  And it’s in line with the style of VCU’s other new buildings, which for me isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Thoughts? Criticisms? Excitement? Please share…

Also, as I said in an earlier post, reader submissions and suggestions are encouraged, even begged for.  This post is from a comment by alert reader Taber, who I thank profusely and ask others to emulate! Email me if you’ve got ideas to share.

In addition to the art deco West Hospital which Trani wants to tear down, another VCU-owned landmark in downtown Richmond is about to go. Here’s a picture of the doomed building:

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Photo by Taberandrew, used with permission.

This is VCU’s Larrick Center (which I’ve seen many times & had no idea what I was looking at!)

OK, so maybe this doesn’t qualify as a landmark. But it’s certainly one of the stranger buildings we have in downtown Richmond. For those who haven’t seen it before, make a pilgrimage before it’s gone forever. Here’s a map:

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I learned this sad news from a VCU Librarian & Professor, Dan Ream who wrote about the building’s history on his blog:

Built originally as the Virginia Civil War Centennial Center and opened in September, 1961, it has functioned for many years as the student activities center for MCV campus students at VCU. It was named for the former YMCA director at MCV, Jonah Larrick.

VCU’s description of the building:

Larrick Student Center includes a dining facility on the first floor and a social center on the second floor. The spacious second-floor lounge is used for movies, dances, lectures, receptions, art exhibitions and other functions. Additional upstairs space houses billiard tables, table tennis, television and an area for listening to music.

And other than Professor Ream’s blog, the only mention I could find on-line of the impending demolition occurred in the minutes of a Student Activities Advisory Committee meeting back in September, which indicates the center closes in December and will be demolished in January.

I wonder what they’ll replace it with…

Great neighborhoods can be built around farmer’s markets. In fact, two of the American Planning Association’s top 10 neighborhoods are centered around, and even named after, their farmer’s markets: Pike Place Market Neighborhood in Seattle and Eastern Market in DC.

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Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market, the birthplace of Starbucks, ironically bans chain and franchise stores from operating there, though the original Starbucks store with its original topless mermaid logo continues to operate there. According to the APA website, “It is home to nearly 220 year-round commercial businesses, 210 crafters, 100 farmers, and 250 street performers, and an integral part of local sustainable agriculture efforts. The market attracts some 10 million visitors each year.”

Other impressive aspects of the market neighborhood:

Here, those living in upscale condos with views of Elliott Bay mix and mingle with occupants of five subsidized apartment buildings that are part of the historic Pike Place Market neighborhood. The market also houses four social service agencies: a health clinic, food bank, and senior and child-care centers.

Pedestrians rule in the Pike Place Market neighborhood. They have the right of way and, when sidewalks are full, walk without fear down the middle of the street. Those choosing to drive must be willing to creep at a pedestrian pace.

Pike Place Market has been threatened over the years by politicians, developers, and neglect. Grassroots activism, however, has kept the market alive and thwarted attempts to raze the market for parking lots, road-building, and high-rise development.

Closer to home, DC’s Eastern Market also earns a mention from the APA.

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Eastern Market

Eastern Market, which recently burned due to neglected maintenance issues, is situated just down Pennsylvania Ave. from the Capitol. The orange and blue metro lines have a stop there, and I highly recommend a visit next time you’re in DC.

The market has permanent stalls open every day, and hosts a farmer’s market, flea market, and various other activities weekly. Like Pike Place Market, Eastern Market is the heart of a residential neighborhood. Again, from the APA site:

The market serves a diverse and broad cross-section of people, promotes community involvement, and operates as a hub for social activity. It easily accommodates the transportation needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers, and transit users, and it meets the needs of its community for a local market

Grassroots activism has also saved the Eastern Market and its surrounding neighborhood from destruction:

Several attempts by the District of Columbia government to close the Eastern Market, most recently in the mid–1950s, spurred residents into action to sustain it… Among [residents’ other] successes was the defeat of a proposal to transform East Capitol Street into a boulevard of federal office buildings and plans to erect the city’s tallest high rise on Pennsylvania Avenue.

So what lessons can we learn for Richmond?

  • Both markets have permanent vendors and are open daily.
  • Both supplement their permanent offerings with farmers and other temporary stalls.
  • Both accommodate non-vehicular traffic.

But most central to the success of these markets, in my opinion, is the civic activism which spared them from demolition. These markets thrive because people deeply care about them and fight to keep them open.

What would make our own 17th St. Farmer’s Market worth fighting for?

Permanent stalls?

A less hostile-to-pedestrians atmosphere?

More housing?

If the experience of DC and Seattle is a guide, answering that question could help solidify the transformation of Shockoe Bottom from abandoned flood plain to thriving mixed-use neighborhood.

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