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Downtown Plan Gets Facelift

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“There seems to be a major difference between this and the last one,” says Morton B. Gulak, an associate professor of urban planning at Virginia Commonwealth University. “The other one was just bland. What this is trying to do is create Richmond’s downtown as a destination point within the whole region.”

Hardin says most of the revisions to the plan are simply updates, such as turning the block anchored by the old Miller & Rhoads department store into a hotel instead of a grassy plaza, as the 1997 version suggested.

“We’re not starting completely over,” says Hardin. “I think what we are trying to do is focus less on those big-ticket projects and more on what’s going on around those corridors. How does this weave together?”

The plan shifts focus to transportation. It connects the development of recent years — such as the expanded convention center and the canal walk — with a “multimodal transportation network” including trolleys. The plan also envisions light rail that extends into the counties.

Corridors for future development are identified, such as Grace Street and previously overlooked areas like Monroe Ward. The plan pays considerable attention to improving the city’s gateways. It also aims to turn the inner city into a destination point for the entire region.

“The new language certainly strengthens the urban design qualities, the imageability of the downtown area,” Gulak says. “It is a good guideline for what should happen in the future.

“Funny, I’m not saying bad things about the city.”

Hardin says his team spent about a year working on the revision, soliciting input from various city departments. And last week, city officials held an open house at the Greater Richmond Convention Center to explain the new version and solicit comments from the public.

Mark Strickler, director of community development, says the new version will likely be finalized and approved sometime in the fall.

Strickler says the newer version isn’t drastically different from the first 1997 plan. “You should update your plan every five years,” he says, adding, “I’m the one who decided to start up (revisions to) the plan.

“Brooke has been the manager. He’s done a really great job.” — Scott Bass

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