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Construction and Uncertainty Mark Business on Boulevard

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Disruptions aside, Papoulakos has another question: Why is the city dumping $3.1 million to improve the Boulevard while it considers moving The Diamond?

“The city inspector told us to be patient. I said, ‘How can patient can I be when I’m losing money?’” Papoulakos recalls of a recent conversation with a city official. “It’s a continuous battle with the city. Now, they want to move The Diamond.”

Bill’s Barbecue, which has two stores on Boulevard near The Diamond, is hardly thrilled with the idea, either. The construction has been tough on business, says Rhoda Elliott, president of the local barbecue chain. Losing The Diamond will be tougher.

“Would it cause me to jump out the window? No,” she says. “Would it cause me some intensive care for a while? Yeah, it probably would.”

They are the forgotten ones in the debate over what to do about The Diamond — businesses on the Boulevard. So far, City Council is only entertaining proposals for a new stadium downtown, perhaps north of the Farmer’s Market in Shockoe Bottom. But as talk moves to the economic benefits of putting a new stadium downtown, Boulevard business owners say the negative effects on them need to be considered.

“It is important to our business,” Elliott says. “It’s going to have an economic impact on all of us around here.”

Geoffrey Platt Jr., executive director of the Maymont Foundation and chairman of Museums on the Boulevard, says The Diamond is an integral part of Vision for the Boulevard, a community-based master plan for the area that was initiated in 2000. That plan was a collaborative effort between city officials, local museums in the corridor and the Virginia Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

“When we did the project … certainly The Diamond was very prominent in that,” says Platt, adding that Museums on the Boulevard hasn’t taken a position on the proposal to move The Diamond. “I happen to think that the Braves stadium location is a good one.”

Six months ago, Earl Granger, hoping to start his own business, took over the rent for Auto Sports, a former used-car lot on the Boulevard. Because of all the construction and uncertainty — for weeks no one could pull into his lot because the city tore up the sidewalk — he’s not so sure what he’ll do. Just last week, a man driving south on the Boulevard ran smack into a hole in the road, and got stuck in soft asphalt.

“He buried his truck two feet in it. It covered his axel,” Granger says, explaining that construction workers used a crane to pull him out. “I don’t think they thought about what they were doing. It’s a mess.”

– Scott Bass

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