City considers building new jail on new site

By Rachel DePompa - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – An idea to build a new city jail, instead of renovating the old one, is causing concern in several Southside neighborhoods. That's because the new proposal references a site off Commerce Road.

City council got its first look at the proposal just under an hour ago at a committee meeting at city hall. The plan was unsolicited. In fact the city was ready to sift through 11 proposals to renovate the current jail, when it got this 12th proposal. And by law, the city must evaluate the proposal.

The city was planning to spend $137-million to renovate and expand the current city jail. It's overcrowded and one of the oldest in the state. But then, this proposal came to city hall.

City Central...a group made up of prominent contractors and architects, including state Senator Henry Marsh, submitted a plan to build a brand new city jail, possibly off Commerce road in Southside.

The group has offered up plans for a 1,032 bed facility that could accommodate up to 1,600 inmates. The proposal doesn't name an official site, but often refers to property off Commerce Road. And according to city records City Central owns 59 acres of warehouses between Ingram Avenue and Bruce Street. It's an industrial area, but there are homes on the backside of the property.

And this group of homeowners in Bellemeade is already organizing to oppose the project.

"Who in their right mind wants to move next door to a jail," said Benjamin Leonard, Bellemeade Civic Association President.

They are worried about property values, traffic and just don't want it in their neighborhood.

"We would like to see our neighborhood turnaround and not continue to go down, and we've been fighting for a long time to turn this neighborhood around," said Bellemeade resident Louise McQueen.

The city is now seeking other proposals for a new jail, but made it clear to council today they are in the very early stages of the process.

"We could very well gets some conceptual responses to this, look at those responses and determine this is not a good deal. Go back and look at the first one and say you know maybe this isn't a good deal," said Richmond Director of Procurement Cheryl Wright.

Ultimately a plan like this must eventually be voted on by the full city council. But that vote is a ways away. The city is still soliciting proposals from other groups and that process will take at least 60 days.

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