Canal Walk getting more attention, best to be patient


Chuck "Cotton" Renfro, a canal cruise tour guide for Venture RichmondI’ve been on a handful of cruises on Richmond’s Canal Walk downtown, but only one with a $10,000 camera on my shoulder. They are always entertaining, but I think I finally found my favorite guide.

Reporter Danielle Wilson did a fun 12 About Town story for NBC12.com on the canal cruises that are offered throughout most of the year. The guide for our tour Chuck Renfro, or “Cotton” as he’s better known. He has been a guide with Richmond canal cruises since they began 11 years ago. 

Cotton is best guide I’ve had yet. He was entertaining and full of fun history facts and he even dressed for the part. Other guides I’ve had were knowledgable and full of facts too, but Cotton was hitting his history with exact dates, quizzes for the passengers and his presentation was full of energy.

We were there on a Saturday night from 4:30 to 7 p.m. and the tours were packed on every run. The one thing I noted was that most everyone showed up just for cruise and left. Some people milled around on the canal before or after the tour, which brings me back to my wish there be something to do or a vendor of some type to take advantage of the crowds.

In late August, I met with Lucy Meade of Venture Richmond at a dinner at Morton’s hosted by Richmond.com to discuss the James River. We got off-topic at one point, talking about the Canal Walk, which is under Venture Richmond’s control.

Meade mentioned that the first comparison most people want to make for Richmond’s Canal Walk is the River Walk in San Antonio, Texas. Her point was that for anyone that wants Canal Walk to be a thriving, bustling retail and restaurant hub in Richmond like River Walk is for San Antonio, it should be noted that it took nearly 40 years for River Walk to develop and gain acceptance as a tourist attraction.  She said that organizers in San Antonio tell her it was more like 80 years in the making.

The work to create the Canal Walk in Richmond was completed in 1999 and many people are becoming impatient with the process of developing a consistent entertainment draw. I wrote about this in early August after a rezoning decision was made for the Reynolds Plant that bisects Canal Walk and have continued to follow developments.

Alix Bryan covered an event for Richmond.com about a collaborative session attended by about 40 people on the future of the Historic Canal Walk, hosted by Sixth District Councilwoman Ellen Robertson at the Hat Factory on Aug. 28:

The Canal Walk and surrounding areas are jewels that many cities lack. The riverfront undoubtedly holds the potential to host great community spaces for residents, outdoorsy types, buskers, vendors, singles, couples, families, cosmopolitans, professionals, students, and tourists alike.

A majority present were City of Richmond affiliates, developers, or business owners. Who else gets up early on a Saturday morning for a three hour public meeting? However, the most vocal participants were Bottom residents, or interested citizens–an estimated 12 total. A developer of the soon-to-be 225 apartments at the former Reynolds site, long the obstacle impeding cohesion along the Canal Walk, was in attendance taking notes.

I will have to side with Venture Richmond’s Meade and just practice patience. Richmonders don’t like to be pushed into anything new, even if the “new” thing is something that was old, like the canal.

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