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.


From Jake Crocker, Prodigy Partners, left as a comment:

Jake Crocker, partner with Prodigy Partnership and the Canvas Restaurant checking in. Yes progress is excruciatingly slow but trust us it is being made. 306 and 308 E. Broad had been gutted and the build out should resume any day now. We have scaled this project up from the original concept and of course designs take time to get approved when dealing with historic buildings. We now understand why Toad’s, The National and pretty much every other restaurant in town does not open when expected, it an effort just to get through the bureaucracy.

This will be an iconic facility for that area and do for that stretch of Broad what the Tobacco Company did for Shockoe Slip. Our website is not up yet either as we have been focused on the restaurant. We will update you all when we get that up and running. We’re shooting for fall but this thing is going to get done, we making a substantial investment in the block so it’s going to be done right so we’re not rushing.

With our project, The National coming online soon, the new restaurant opening up next to that, the Hilton, Federal Courthouse and Richmond CenterStage opening soon Broad Street will be a different world by 2009/2010. Don’t forget Douglas Jemal has his hands in the area and has already started renovations on his properties at 2nd and Broad, plus look for him to do something with the old CNB tower soon. Exciting times, just be patient.

Jake Crocker
Prodigy Partnership, LLC

Jake commented on an earlier post with details about the restaurant Canvas, click here for a restaurant description.

And if you’re wondering who Jemal is and what the CNB is, read this.

The 1930’s era, Art Deco American Model Tobacco building on Jeff Davis Highway at Hopkins Rd. may become a 600-unit apartment complex. [Details VIA the TD] Here’s a retro-postcard picture of the building:


The developer plans for the building to be a mixed-income development, with approximately 1/3 of the units designated “affordable” with the help of VHDA tax credits.

In reporting this story, the Times Dispatch continues its current trend of shoddy journalism and/or poor editorial oversight.

Problematic quotes include:

The main building encompasses about 350,000 in seven stories, with some sweeping view of the city skyline.

I assume 350,000 square feet, and not 350,000 units? Though the units presumably have the sweeping views and not the square feet. Or perhaps it’s some of the 7 stories which have the views. Come to think of it, I suppose, technically speaking, some of the square feet have sweeping views too.

The renovation of the classic American Model Tobacco building in South Richmond came before a City Council committee today for support but council took no action.

What kind of “support” was sought? Financial? Rezoning? Moral?

Why did Council take no action? Outright hostility to the project? Deferral until a committee can discuss? They were tired and ran out of coffee?

The article affords no answers to these questions, unfortunately.

Apparently Richmond’s moving up on the world stage- the French have called GRTC CEO John Lewis, Jr. and asked about buying their headquarters building. From today’s TD:

Lewis has regularly fielded calls from developers as far away as France since he became chief executive officer at GRTC Transit System two years ago.

Every developer wants to be first in line on the day GRTC decides to sell more than 6 acres of prime real estate it owns along West Cary Street near Richmond’s Fan District.

With this much interest in that site- the redevelopment is sure to be monumental.

The whole Cary St. corridor between Boulevard and Belvidere is changing, if you haven’t traveled that way recently, you should definitely check it out.

And 6 acres located a stone’s throw from Carytown, on the southern edge of the Fan, walking distance to Byrd Park- that’s a gold mine for any developer. Let’s hope someone good buys the site!

Urban renewal. Who can be against it? Who opposes renewal, or rebirth, or renaissance of our urban areas?

The phrase “urban renewal” is semantically loaded- it conjures mental images of a dying city in need of new life. I imagine a neighborhood filled with dilapidated housing, crime, broken street lights, and few, if any, stores. The promise of renewal- of new homes and shops, of a neighborhood with little crime- who can say no to that?

Or, if urban renewal isn’t your phrase, you might prefer, “the dire need to create more flourishing neighborhoods across the city…” [said by our own Mayor Wilder, via]

Style’s cover article this week, however, provides a cautionary tale about these promises of urban renewal. “The Greatest Place on Earth” details the history of the Fulton community and its demise at the hands of the government.

First, there was the decay of the neighborhood from a complex array of factors: death of the streetcar that formerly terminated in the neighborhood, suburban sprawl, shopping malls, neglect by the city (who admittedly didn’t enforce building codes).

Second, there was the demonizing of the newly-crumbling neighborhood:

In 1966, city leaders had gone so far as to declare Fulton its “worst slum.” City Council commissioned a study looking at options for revitalization.

“Fulton Bottom is, for the most part, an aged and ragged neighborhood wracked by crime and poverty,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported in 1969. “Most of its houses are officially classified as dilapidated, and many are considered unfit for human occupancy. Most people, no doubt, regard the East End community as a blot upon the city, a place to shun if possible.”

Third, there’s promises to take care of residents and redevelop the neighborhood:

So its revamped plan called for tearing down Fulton in phases. Some $32 million in federal grants were secured, some of which was intended to help property owners revitalize existing homes that were structurally sound. Fulton residents were to be offered the opportunity to live in the new development as well.

Then there’s the subsequent political reality which sets in after the old neighborhood is torn down:

Despite the plan to phase in the development and preserve some homes, [Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority] RRHA wound up demolishing the entire neighborhood using the power of eminent domain. The funding dried up, and the new housing, particularly in the valley, would take more than 30 years to come to fruition.

I’m no libertarian or conservative anti-government republican, nor am I a radical leftist who wants to dismantle every government function. I can, however, learn from Richmond’s history and say with confidence that government promises to help low-income folks are too often worthless.

Fulton and Randolph were both to be redeveloped for its residents more than 30 years ago. Neither is finished today. The gap between the subsidized Blackwell project’s demolition and the beginning of construction (not the completion, mind you) was more than 5 years.

So while Scott Bass’ excellent Style article about Fulton is interesting (much is taken from Seldon Richardson’s also excellent book Built by Blacks: African American Architecture and Neighborhoods in Richmond, VA), I found myself comparing the history of Fulton to the current conversations about demolishing the housing projects.

There are, of course, key differences, most obviously the historic import of the neighborhoods and architecture. But the story is the same- the politicians want to redevelop a low-income neighborhood and make lofty promises to the current residents about creating thriving mixed-income neighborhoods. Then, as was the case with Fulton, Randolph, and Blackwell, those promises are broken, and redevelopment happens incredibly slowly.

One of the greatest critiques I hear from politicians and from Richmond residents about subsidized housing projects is about the “entitlement mentality” of the residents, who supposedly take housing for granted and take no personal ownership of their property and neighborhood.

I would argue that redevelopment schemes like those in Fulton- and like those being floated for the current housing projects- perpetuate that mentality by not adequately involving the residents affected and not adequately taking their concerns into account.

If we truly wish to increase the ownership people take in their housing, we need to make sure we include them in any process that affects them and honor their input.

The blogosphere has been abuzz about the recent charrette process and celebrating public involvement in the planning process. Let’s make that a basic principle of our city- always involve the public – and not let disasters like Fulton’s demolition and painfully slow redevelopment happen again.

Then we need to hold the politicians’ responsible when they fail to take us into account.

Two 2nd-hand clothing stores, a copy shop, bakery and more will soon join Boaz and Ruth‘s 2nd-hand furniture store and cafe in the heart of Highland Park’s commercial district- the intersection of Meadowbridge Rd. and Brookland Park Blvd.

Boaz and Ruth, a non-profit that offers job training opportunities for folks just out of prison, has done a remarkable job at finding successful business opportunities in a long-forsaken neighborhood. They’ve opened a furniture store, a cafe, a catering business, a moving business, as well as bought and renovated homes for employees to live in. And in all of these ventures, they’ve employed and trained folks who society has marginalized.

Now they’re doing even more for their Highland Park community: they’ve bought and renovated an abandoned firehouse across from their furniture store, of course using the building renovation as an opportunity to teach construction skills, and are offering the space to local merchants.

Style has the story, but inexplicably headlines it about the suburban Henrico neighborhood Lakeside, at least in the on-line edition (haven’t checked print yet.)

Don’t be fooled, this is definitely about the firehouse in Highland Park- I’ve been there and recognize the people and the pictures!

Boaz and Ruth is committed to the success of the new business owners, “As part of the program, the tenants agree to participate in business training, maintain a relationship with a mentor and join the Retail Merchants Association of Greater Richmond.” September 29th is the target opening date.  So great news for Highland Park and for our city!

This, to me, is an ideal form of community revitalization- it seeks to serve the current residents of the neighborhood, not to attract outsiders through development that’s financially out of reach for the neighbors.  It also shows that renovation and preservation of historic buildings as well as new shops opening don’t necessarily come at the expense of nearby low-income residents.

And as long as I’m promoting Boaz and Ruth here, I may as well advertise their upcoming awareness- and fund-raising walk on Oct. 6. Called “Long Walk to Freedom,” they’re highlighting the barriers released prisoners face to successful reintegration into society. From their website:

The walk, scheduled for Saturday October 6th, will begin at Richmond City jail. Local and state correctional and law enforcement officials and several formerly incarcerated men and women will frame the theme—release from jail or prison is only the beginning of a person’s walk to freedom. True freedom comes as a person reconnects with himself, with friends and family, and with society. Stations along the walk will represent the various barriers to and solutions for the ex-offender – housing, jobs, etc.

Walk begins at the Richmond City Jail (Oliver Hill Way) on Saturday, October 6. Walk ends at Freedom House’s Conrad Center across the street from the Jail. Time frame–8-12 a.m.

Target Walkers

Folks interested in restorative justice
Anyone who has known any one who has been incarcearated
Anyone who has been incarcerated

Potential Barriers and Solution Stations

– Housing
– Food
– Identification
– Self Esteem and Emotional Competency
– Addiction Recovery
– Transportation
– Employment
– Restoring family, self esteem, community

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!

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