Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney is bringing in a group of national experts to help devise a plan to reinvigorate Shockoe Bottom.
Members of the Rose Center for Public Leadership, operated by the National League of Cities and the Urban Land Institute, are visiting Richmond this week to volunteer their services in creating a “shared vision” for the Bottom.
Stoney was one of four mayors chosen across the country by the Urban Land Institute for an opportunity to use the group. The world-renowned team of urban planners are touring Shockoe Bottom, surveying the area’s history and talking to community members and business owners.
Shockoe Bottom has seen development in recent years, with the renovation of the historic Main Street Station and an effort to create a more fitting memorial and museum for the Lumpkin’s Jail or Devil’s Half Acre site, which was once the nation’s second-largest slave-holding facility.
The 17th Street Farmer’s Market is also under a complete renovation to convert it into an outdoor, pedestrian plaza. The GRTC Pulse bus rapid transit line is further under construction on Broad Street, heading through the neighborhood. Both projects are scheduled to be complete by spring/summer.
Restaurants and other storefront owners in the area have complained of declining business in recent years because of a continual loss of parking, spotted crime and ongoing construction. Businesses are also pushing for better lighting and less invasive street closures on the weekends.
"Shockoe Bottom was thriving with zero investment from the city of Richmond for 25 years,” said Mac McCormack, owner of McCormack’s Irish Pub.
McCormack has run McCormack’s Irish Pub in the Bottom for 20 years.
"[The city has] put project, after project, after project down here, without ample parking," said McCormack. "It's amazing how many public lots we've lost.”
An attempt spearheaded by former Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones to build a baseball field and accompanying development was ultimately squashed. Supporters of the development of the Lumpkins Jail or Devil's Half Acre site were strongly opposed to building on the historically-sensitive land.
Public meetings with consultants have been ongoing for years, over the creation of a memorial park honoring the hundreds of thousands of slaves brought through Shockoe Bottom, a museum and possible lands designated as historical sites.
"There's a way that we can protect and preserve the history of the United State of America, right there in Shockoe Bottom, that also tells the story about how enslaved Africans built this city,” said Mayor Levar Stoney. "And we can do that in a way that also allows for economic development, tourism, etc."
"Economic development is the way to get tax revenue without raising taxes," said David Napier, owner of Old City Bar and president of the Shockoe Bottom Neighborhood Association. "We are under-serving our city down here, as far as an economic district."
Representatives from the Rose Center will present preliminary recommendations for Shockoe Bottom at Main Street Station, on the second floor, at 9 a.m. Thursday. The public is welcome to come and weigh in.
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