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In Bout With Wilder, Bowers Takes Round One

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Score one for Al Bowers Jr.

A Richmond Circuit Court jury has awarded more than $46,000 to Premiere Homes, which is owned by Bowers' son, Al Bowers III, in unpaid fees for streetscape work the city asked Premiere to complete two years ago.

Bowers Jr., a budding rival to Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, claimed victory last week in what's become an ongoing battle with the mayor's office.

Wilder has promised to fight "frivolous lawsuits" filed against the city and challenged Bowers' contention that the streetscape work was contracted out by the Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority.

This time, however, City Hall lost.

"We sued the city not for money, but for principle," Bowers Jr. says. "Justice prevailed. This verdict proves that a small business doesn't have to be run over by a big city without there being consequences."

Linwood Norman, press secretary to the mayor, scoffs at Bowers' claim to victory after the Feb. 28 decision. In terms of scale, he points out, Premiere Homes sued for $273,800, which included some additional legal and contracting fees, but was awarded only a fraction of that amount.

"We appreciate the verdict, which recognizes that some claimants inflate their damages, as was clearly evident in this case," Norman said in a statement, adding that the city is considering an appeal. "This is yet another instance of the city of Richmond standing up for what is right and not cowering simply because a lawsuit had been filed, with settlement expected."

The Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority hired Premiere to develop the Randolph West subdivision south of the Downtown Expressway near Virginia Commonwealth University, between Allen and Lombardy streets.

The city claimed streetscape improvements were part of the original agreement and the responsibility of Premiere.

The lawsuit set off a feud between Bowers and Wilder, whose office also challenged the involvement of Bowers' consulting business, Bowers Family Enterprises, in the Miller & Rhoads hotel project downtown last fall. Bowers is also considering a bid for City Council, specifically Marty Jewell's 5th District seat.

As for the streetscape, the question now is who will complete the work. Premiere stopped short of erecting the streetlights — the money it sued for was for electrical and utility prep work, says Bowers' attorney, Brent Jackson.

"It appears, unless the city appeals," Jackson says, "they are going to have to pay for the value received to date and still put the lights up." S

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