Posts Tagged ‘NBC12’

Monument to Maggie L. Walker would be fitting tribute to her & Richmond

Potential site for Maggie Walker monument, the intersection of Broad Street, Adams Street and Brook RoadA resolution to support a monument to famed Richmonder Maggie Lena Walker has passed through Richmond City Council.

She was an educator and is best known for being the first woman to charter and serve as president of a bank in the United States. Her home in the 100 block of E. Leigh Street in Jackson Ward is a federally protected National Historic Site. She was born in Richmond in 1867 and died here in 1934. She is buried in Evergreen Cemetery.

NBC12’s Laura Geller wrote:

In a city of monuments, leaders want this monument to be a big deal. They do not want something that will blend into the background, but a statue that will make people think about the accomplishments of the first African-American woman to run a bank…Under the ordinance, the city will study if the intersection of Broad Street, Adams Street and Brook Road will make for a good location. Originally, [Councilman Charles] Samuels wanted the statue to go on Monument Avenue but he’s been convinced Jackson Ward is the perfect place. The project will be funded through private donations.

Richmond is a city of monuments and Jackson Ward is the perfect place for this one. With all the economic growth and physical improvements to the neighborhood once known as the “Harlem of the South” and the “Black Wall Street of America” because of its reputation as a center for both black commerce and entertainment.

According to CBS6’s Mark Holmberg:

Currently, only a large tree sits in that triangle made by the three intersecting roads downtown, just a few blocks from where Walker’s Consolidated Bank & Trust now sits. But there’s much more standing in the way. Specifically, funding, as the last portion of the resolution points out. The city council vote was largely symbolic, noting the city will have to make sure it owns that triangle before it can even consider using it for this monument.

Knowing who owns the quirky triangle is important [locator map]. It would be a shame for that tree to go, but that much-improved section of the Broad Street corridor could use another attraction to continue its resurgance.

Marcus S. Jones Jr., 1971 graduate of Maggie Walker High School and president of the Maggie L. Walker Statue Foundation. He said to CBS6’s Holmberg: “I’m going to try to get a grant, written for $500,000 to a million dollars.”

Arthur Ashe statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond, VirginiaAs I did when I wrote about my proposed statue to Lewis Ginter, let’s use Richmond’s statue honoring tennis champion and Richmond native Arthur Ashe as a comparison.   

Ashe is honored with a 12 foot tall bronze statue at Monument Avenue and Roseneath Road that stands on a 87,000 pound granite block and rises 28 feet above the street. It was created by artist Paul Di Pasquale and was dedicated in July 1996 with a cost of nearly $450,000 (according to figures from the Richmond Times-Dispatch).   

Bojangles Park in Jackson Ward in Richmond, VirginiaIf the property transfer brings no larger cost to the city than the tree removal and some cosmetic work, a monument to Maggie L. Walker in that spot could cost between $500,000 and $750,000, depending on the artist and scale of the monument. The size of the triangle should keep the sculpture to a scale similar to that of Bill Bojangles Robinson, which conveniently resides four blocks away north on Adams Street, forming a nice bookend of sorts for Jackson Ward.


Assessing a bike commute: Boulevard at least scenic

The view heading north on the Boulevard BridgeI went to the recent Bike, Pedestrian and Trails workgroup organized by the City of Richmond at The Carillon in Byrd Park. It was very informative and the crowd of nearly 200 showed that Richmonders definitely want improvements to planning city streets for pedestrians and cyclists and not just for vehicles and public transit.

It got me to thinking about my own daily work commute between my home in Lakeside and South Richmond at the NBC12 studios on Midlothian Turnpike. I often take a route that is 10.5 miles from Lakeside Avenue by way of Powhite Parkway, Chippenham Parkway to Midlothian Turnpike. Other than the one fantastic highlight as I pass over the Powhite Parkway Bridge and get to see the James River, the commute is not appealing.

A second, more scenic and direct route for me is an 8.2-mile commute from Lakeside to Midlothian Turnpike by way of Lakeside Avenue/Hermitage Road/The Boulevard/Westover Hills Boulevard and Midlothian Turnpike.  Really, one right turn from my street and all those named streets are the same road until I reach Midlothian Turnpike.

That commute would follow the proposed North/South major route outlined by the commission. It is a shorter route and much more scenic.  I would pass Joseph Bryan Park, the huge homes on Hermitage Road, Gen. A.P. Hill statue at Laburnum, Gen. Stonewall Jackson at Monument Avenue, the crape myrtle and museum lined Boulevard and The Fan and Museum Districts, Columbus statue at Byrd Park, The Carillon, Maymont, the Boulevard Bridge and the James River, and Westover Hills along the way.

Of course, there is The Diamond and the Greyhound bus station and Midlothian Turnpike along the way to bring me down, but it can’t all be perfect. And The Boulevard is actually No. 10 on the list of the streets with most vehicle vs. cyclist accidents in Richmond.

I’ve done this commute by bike just once, and it could work if I had the time. It would take about an hour, plus the time to cool down and shower. It takes about 20 minutes by car if there is no traffic, but it costs me between $0.70 and $0.35 in tolls one way.

My workplace grades fair (especially for a TV station) on the recommendations to promote alternative transportation modes for commuters:

  • Bike rack – NO (I’d make due)
  • Shower – YES

Key issue: I’m a father of two and my family takes priority over exercise and going green. I need to drop off and/or pick up my kids daily.  But on special occasions, this would be a great way to combine a workout with a commute and save fuel. We will have to stick to the 2-mile commute to Sweet 95 for ice cream and 3-mile commute to the Lewis Ginter Recreation Association pool for now.

10 places you might encounter homeless in Richmond

Monroe Park

There are thousands of homeless in Richmond and I have no idea how to deal with them.  What is the proper etiquette? Do you give them money or something to eat? Do you ignore homeless people? Tell them “No thank you, I can’t help you?” Are you consistent? Are you sympathetic to their plight? Do they make you angry? Are they all on drugs, drunk or mentally ill?

I am cautious around unstable and desperate people, especially now that I’m a parent. I have had trouble explaining to my children why the people we see hanging out in intersections are allowed to break the rules of the road that I’ve worked so hard to teach them. Or why we cannot camp out in our parks and on benches at night like those same people. It’s confusing to them.

With the City of Richmond announcing a $6 million plan to improve the very visible Monroe Park — widely known as the number one place to find homeless in the River City. City leaders and a group of citizens say they are looking to make the city’s oldest park more open and family-friendly.

I don’t get everywhere in the city, but I have encountered homeless in many unexpected places over my many years here. This list isn’t meant to be harsh or insensitive to the homeless, but I am trying to illustrate how many key locations have suffered from the blight of homeless.

Monroe Park – You will find all types there, and it has been that way for as long as I can recall. The Daily Planet shelter used to be a couple of blocks south of the park. Different organizations regularly feed people in the park. NBC12’s Rachel DePompa detailed the renovation plan, which included a café with public restrooms and seating on a sunken plaza, a granite water feature that would be designed to mimic the James River.

I’ve seen enough abuse of fountains by homeless folk and as much as I love the push in Richmond to encourage public art, I have my doubts that this fountain will avoid being abused.  Sounds like a running urinal in waiting.

Anywhere on Grace Street – From Belvidere down to Centenary Church at 4th Street and beyond. Monroe Ward used to be a glorious gateway to the West End from downtown. Then, automobiles and suburbia ruined it, and the majority of the old Victorian homes were replaced with drab storefronts. Now, many of the remaining businesses are blighted by hoards of people roaming the streets looking for a hand out — many likely mentally ill. Many of the entranceways of empty businesses have been treated as urinals for years.

Kanawha PlazaKanawha Plaza – This must be a resort or oasis of sorts for the homeless.  The stage in the park used for Friday’s a Sunset is a ready-made shelter and the attractive fountain in the plaza doubles as the laundromat. I’ve seen it and while I feel sad for the people, I hate that a beautiful spot of the city doesn’t belong to the downtown workers that deserve a pleasant, clean park.

Anywhere within a four-block radius of the Greyhound bus station – The Boulevard between Broad Street and Westwood Avenue is littered with humans with no better place to bed down than under an overpass or behind a warehouse. The Boulevard needs to have this problem addressed as the Richmond continues to encourage economic growth and development in that promising area.

Leigh Street and Belvidere – Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between “Homeless: 2 kids, no job, need food” and “I’m report for work to this corner everyday.” That sounds so harsh, but there are people who have been at that same intersection for YEARS. I believe they are homeless, but I don’t believe that it will help them stop being homeless if people continue to support them with change out of their windows.

Belvidere and Canal streets – The Daily Planet used to be there, so there is history. VCU bought the property and moved everyone out, but there is plenty of lingering homeless. Traditions are hard to break.

Lombardy Street, between Maggie Walker Governor’s School and Virginia Union University, under the Interstate 95 overpass – It’s a shame that those two institutions have to be sullied. The chain-link fence under I-95 has signs warning against trespassing, but plenty of people live back in the weeds under the shelter of the overpass by the train tracks.

James River downtown at the Pipeline Trail – Actually, they also live among all the islands around Mayo Island downtown at the Great Blue Heron rookery. These guys have a tent city, mostly in the summer. I’ve looked down on the tarp houses from Vistas on the James. These are the hearty, self-sufficient types that aren’t likely looking for a handout and generally you never see them — just their stuff.

Broad Street in Shockoe Bottom – Not as bad as it used to be, but I’ve seen plenty hanging out in Shockoe Bottom at the Exxon across from McDonald’s recently. Same dudes every time.

Bryan Park – This is from personal experience. They like to live in the backwoods or along the interstates. More of the self-sufficient types — never had them ask me for anything.

This is not an overly thorough list. I am not that familiar with Southside, Highland Park or Church Hill. I’m not trying to offend anyone and I’m clearly not overly educated on homeless in Richmond. I don’t know the solution.

Key statistics from January 2009 of homeless people in Richmond:
Total homeless population:
1,150 (1,014 adults and 136 children).
Adults with children: 11 percent.
Unsheltered individuals: 16 percent.
Gender: 74 percent male; 26 percent female.
Family status: 56 percent single, never married; 6 percent married; 44 percent have been in families before.
Race: 68 percent African-American; 26 percent white; 4 percent Hispanic.
Average age for adults: 44.
Education: 53 percent high school diploma or GED; 22 percent some college; 9 percent college degree.
Veterans: 18 percent.
Have served time in jail or prison: 73 percent (43 percent jail; 8 percent prison; 22 percent both).

For more:  Also, see the Daily Planet website for a list of local resources.

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 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 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 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.

Richmond without Byrd Theatre: ‘Ooooohhhh…SICK!’

The Byrd Theatre is “Richmond’s Premiere Movie Palace”The Byrd Theatre is “Richmond’s Premiere Movie Palace” and has been since 1928. It is unique, charming and irreplaceable. You can complain all you want, but you can’t deny that Richmond — especially Carytown — needs the National Historic Landmark to stay in business and remain an integral part of the city’s entertainment.

I’m a think, buy, shop, eat, play, promote local kind of guy. I’ve never been the kind of person that appreciates the biggest, newest, shiniest objects – at least not when we already have something that works already.

Think about the complaints about The Diamond, the Richmond Coliseum and even Landmark Theater, just to name a few of Richmond’s entertainment venues. Bad seating, not enough bathrooms, parking, lack of amenities, out-of-date appearances, falling concrete…It’s what we do in Richmond. We complain. There’s always something that isn’t right with our venerable edifices. Then we go out and try to build huge and expensive boondoggles somewhere out in the suburbs.

Then we suck it up and get over it. For example, The Diamond got a makeover, but it’s really the same old place everyone has been complaining about for years. The Flying Squirrels have brought fun back to the ballpark, and that quieted everyone down. It’s the quality of the entertainment – bang for your buck — and the Byrd Theater has that.

I’ll admit, I rarely go to mainstream, first run theaters. They cost too much and are usually out of my way. The Byrd Theatre is perfect for me for the 10 movies I might go out to see in a given year, and I usually donate $5 to the bird cage when I go.

The Byrd Theatre works on so many levels. The Mighty Wurlitzer Organ on a Saturday night is the essence of Richmond. You can’t beat the $2 price of admission, even if you may have had to wait a month or two to see the movie.

Perhaps the best of all at the Byrd is the crowd reciting the lines of the old “Virginia Litter Control” film that runs before most movies.

Thinking of Richmond without the Byrd Theatre? “Ooooohhhh…SICK!”

NBC12’s Laura Geller examined the Byrd’s situation [also check the full video interview with Todd Schall-Vess, General Manager of the Byrd Theatre]:

When you think about Carytown, more than likely the first thing that comes to mind is the once opulent Byrd Theatre. Merchants Association President Bob Broomfield explained Carytown developed around the 81-year-old landmark. 

“It has helped define the attitude and funkiness, quirkiness, and the style that has been so much about Carytown,” he said.

The tough economy has created a bizarre situation for the movie palace, which sells tickets for a $1.99. General Manager Todd Schall-Vess told us day-to-day business is actually doing okay and raising prices would force them to send more money to the film distributors.

Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Will Jones touched on the upgrades and financial matters:

The Byrd Theatre Foundation was established in 2002 to buy and preserve the theater, but five years passed before it was able to finalize a purchase agreement with the heirs of Samuel and Irma Warren, longtime owners who restored the theater.

While making mortgage payments, the foundation also has been able to secure donations to replace the Byrd’s leaky roof and to repair its Wurlitzer pipe organ. Other improvements have upgraded the projectors, re-anchored the chandelier, and repaired the heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and electrical systems. … Overall, the foundation estimates that $750,000 to $1 million is needed to upgrade the seats and bathrooms.

You don’t have to break your bank to help. Check the website and donate if you must, but mostly just go to the Byrd and enjoy yourself.

What to do with Northside’s deserted Azalea Mall?

Empty parking lot at Azalea Mall in Richmond, VirginiaI consider the empty parking lot at Azalea Mall “suburban blight” and an environmental wasteland. I wish that it could be bulldozed and replaced by a park with nice trees and grass.

The old mall opened in 1962 and closed in 1995 and the property was razed in November 1999. It’s been 10 years of a decaying parking lot, with weeds growing through its cracks and decaying pipe infrastructure underneath it. See more details & photos on 15 years and counting for Richmond’s abandoned Azalea Mall

Old sign with tenants of razed Azalea Mall in Richmond, VirginiaBesides the long-standing Azalea Mall Garden Center, all that remains on the 48-acre property at Brook Road and Azalea Avenue is a rusting sign, litter, weeds and a decaying parking lot.

The beautiful Northside could use more green space and less unwanted asphalt, right? Build a park? I’ve got the perfect person to honor. Historically, the property was part of the Westbrook plantation owned by none other than Major Lewis Ginter — the man responsible for developing the Northside.

Parks are fun right? Spend several million dollars to rip out the parking lot and infrastructure and plant trees, problem solved!

Not exactly. Parks cost money to build and maintain.  Plus, there are several parks nearby — namely Bryan Park and Pine Camp in Richmond, and tiny Spring Park just down the hill and across Interstate 95 in Henrico County.

The owner, Atlanta-based Dewberry Capital Corp., had the old Azalea Mall torn down in November 1999. It originally had planned to build a 420,000-plus square-foot strip shopping center in 2000. It didn’t happen.

Dewberry’s Steve Cesinger said the real estate development company is not in a rush to develop, in part due to the downturn in the global economy.

I asked Cesinger about the cracked and pothole-filled parking lot and the underground piping. Would it help them sell or develop the land if it were cleaned up and more presentable?

“You’ve got to do things in today’s economy that make sense dollarwise,” he said, adding that it would not make the property more attractive to potential investors if it were to be completely stripped down. “It’s not worth the dollars to invest more into tearing out the existing parking lot.”

There goes my dream of green space, but at least I got a free lesson in landholding.

Probably the best thing the Northside can hope for is that the neighboring upscale retirement community of Westminster Canterbury buys the land. Since it purchased the adjacent 24 acres for an expansion completed in 2005, it would only seem logical and suitable for it to obtain the remainder of the property bordered by Westbrook Avenue and Brook Road. It currently leases part of the parking lot for its employees.

Mike McLaughlin thinks Westminster Canterbury would be the best option, saying that “they could protect their flank” and that the retirement community has been good for the neighborhood.

Azalea Mall Garden CenterHe might know better than anyone else about the area. He and his family have run the Azalea Mall Garden Center on the southwest corner of the old mall property for 16 years. Before that, he had been a manager at the Woolworth’s until the mall closed.

He clearly has his finger on the pulse of the mall’s afterlife. He said he gets questions every day about the mall and the consensus from his customers is they’d rather have it left undeveloped.  Traffic is already a problem on Westbrook and there doesn’t seem to be a need for more retail space.

“People are content to have it empty, rather than a development they wouldn’t want to have,” said city council member Chris Hilbert, who represents the Northside 3rd District.

Hilbert agreed that traffic is a problem on Westbrook and said his constituents have been asking for traffic-calming measures and improvements on the avenue, which many drivers treat as a cut-through from Brook Road to Lakeside Avenue and I-95.

There is another stumbling block to acquiring or developing the land. Hilbert points out that only about 15 percent of the Azalea Mall real estate (fronting Westbrook Avenue and Brook Road) is in Richmond — the rest is in Henrico. That creates the need for regional cooperation, and extra complications.

Old Jiffy Lube at Azalea Mall in Richmond, VirginiaHilbert said that since the mall was torn down in 1999, the crime rate has improved in the area. There had been a reputation for prostitution and drugs at the site before its demolition. 

So maybe what I call “suburban blight” in this case is better than a crime-infested ghost town or another poorly attended strip mall?

Bottom line, we need fewer dead malls and less “dumb growth.” Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams wrote in 2007 after taking a city-sponsored bus tour with Partnership for Smarter Growth:

Few sights are sadder, or less attractive, than the decaying remains of a dead shopping center. Malls don’t leave a good-looking corpse….The inner suburbs are graying gracelessly as sprawl devours the connective tissue of our region.

I don’t have a pony in this race, but if everybody is happy to just keep 48 acres of asphalt nothingness sitting there, maybe it really is the best option — until Westminster Canterbury makes the next move.

A look inside the old Pump House

Pump House Park in Richmond, VirginiaThe City of Richmond is trying to bring back the glory of the Pump House. At a recent event at the old gothic treasure, parks director J.R. Pope talked with me about the plans for the Pump House, which was designed by the great Richmond city engineer Col. Wilfred Emory Cutshaw and built in the 1880s.

In the Falls of the James Atlas, by Bill Trout:

The gray granite Byrd Park Pump House is a magnificent example of the Victorian Gothic Style. The upper floor, with cast-iron arches, was a pavilion used by park visitors….[it] is a treasure well worth saving through re-use as a public meeting hall, part of a canal museum, a small restaurant and the terminus of canal-boat rides from downtown Richmond. It needs our help.

Images of the inside of the Pump HousePope and the Friends of the James River Park hope to make it reality someday soon. The hope is that it one day will be the new home for the James River Park System visitor’s center, Pope said. In addition, it could be a museum, learning center, host weddings, parties, events and the canal could once again be in operation.

Of course, it would not be cheap, and fund-raising would be a big part of making that happen. 

I got my first look inside the Pump House, and it is a great space.  I could see spots where Pope suggested an amphitheater could be placed. The building has space for offices, a gift shop, catering facilities — dream big, it might happen.

Inside the Pump HouseThe current state of the building is a little damp. Pope said that the canal would have to be drained and dredged. While the canal is dry, its leaky walls could be shored up to prevent the leaking that is seeping into the Pump House. Some areas of the main pump room are full-fledged springs and the room is constantly wet.

Inside the Pump House, missing the machineryHe also lamented that the old iron pumps — the big machinery that filled the pump room when it was in operation — are long gone. They were sold for scrap to Japan in the 1930s. They would have been a great tool for learning about the old process and purpose of the building, as well as being something cool to see on a visit.

Inside the Pump House, upper dance floorThe old dance floor — an open space with a balcony above the pump room on the top floor of the building — is every bit as alluring as I suspected. Standing there — after having read so much about the multipurpose usage of the building — I could easily imagine the grand parties held there in the early 1900s. People riding up the canal from downtown to the Pump House….maybe we can do it again someday? If not, at least experience a small measure of the building’s grandeur.

Improvements to the access to the building have been made. A dock on the canal and a wooden ramp and staircase have been in place for a couple of years. The inside of the building has safe staircases and walkways and the structure is sound.

George Washington's Lower Arch at Pump HouseAnother giant step in the right direction is the recent work to clear the grounds west of the Pump House. Much of the weeds and unwanted trees have been removed. Plus, the Lower Arch — the grand entrance to the canal, famously visited by George Washington in 1791 — can finally be seen again.

The building is more presentable to visitors — a large key to future fund-raising efforts that is not lost on Pope and the Friends of the James River Park.

Finally getting to see the inside of the Pump House made reminded me of something once said by Nathan McCann, photo journalist for NBC12 [watch a video of the inside of the Pump House]:

The building is stunning, but touring something so few people get to see inside is the real treat. As a news photographer, I get to see things like the Pump House in a more raw, more unfiltered state…There’s something vibrant about seeing a space sculpted into its intended purpose. There’s something beautiful about letting a place like the Pump House speak for itself.

Gothic artistry of the Pump House at Byrd ParkThat would be the key to making the building work as a visitor’s center — not to alter too much of the character, which I trust Pope and park manager Ralph White would honor.

I’d love to be able to kayak from Huguenot Flatwater down to the James River Railway Bridge, left at Grant’s Dam and glide in under the Lower Arch before taking a break at the Pump House. We’d be able to paddle back out and ride down to Reedy Creek or beyond to finish our trip.  

While we’re dreaming, how about being able to paddle back up from the current end of the Lower Canal, at Oregon Hill? [See two previous posts:  Field research: Paddling up Lower Canal and Paddling up Kanawha Canal = Boon to Richmond?].3-Mile locks at the Pump House