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Mayor Surprises UR Law School

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The mayor's speech did more than set forth aspirations. Wilder introduced an ambitious $250 million to $300 million revitalization program that would result in the building or modernizing of 15 elementary schools, a new high school for the arts and a citywide science and math school, and the renovation of the Carpenter Center and the Landmark Theatre, among other things.

In his prepared remarks, the mayor announced that he'd allocate city funds to allow UR, "under the visionary leadership of Dean Smolla, to partner with VCU to create a downtown campus at the Richmond Hotel on 8th Street, providing not only a new dormitory for students but also a venue for clinics and Legal Aid. …

"In return for the city's contribution, the law school will likewise develop and offer a program to high school students to teach them values of being an informed and active participant in public matters."

Smolla, however, wasn't briefed on the mayor's plan. He says a meeting with VCU President Eugene Trani and the dean of the medical school had been set up before the mayor's speech to explore a potential partnership, but nothing more.

For a few years, some faculty at UR have "been interested in exploring the idea of a law and medicine program," Smolla says, "that would involve a wide variety of legal and social policies that intersect."

When UR announced that it was exploring a downtown campus extension for its law school in August, Smolla says, no partnership existed with VCU. That plan, which is still under discussion, would include classrooms, programs related to urban issues and dormitory space for law students. Among the sites UR has considered for that project is the former Murphy Hotel at Eighth and Broad streets, not the former Hotel Richmond, which sits at Ninth and Grace streets.

"My read is that two different ideas were braided together in the mayor's remarks," Smolla says. "And either could happen or not happen on its own."

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