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Repair Work Delayed On Historic Armory

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A federal grant had provided the $550,000 needed, engineering studies were complete and a contractor had been chosen to do the work — Davis Bros., a minority-owned firm in Richmond.

Preservationists, who have long goaded the city to make basic repairs, applauded officials for taking the first step toward reincarnating the long-abandoned building. But nothing has happened. And now they're getting angry.

"This process seems to have gone awry in the city manager's office," says Selden Richardson, the outspoken architectural historian with the Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods, who has long lobbied to save the Armory.

Richardson says that after he unleashed an "electromagnetic storm" on the city for failing to start the work, City Manager Calvin Jamison told him last Wednesday that he'd already signed the contract with Davis Bros.

But a "thicket of bureaucracy" continues to delay the work that should have begun more than a month ago, Richardson says. Bill Pantele, the councilman whose district includes the Armory, agrees. Since June, Council has moved three times to stabilize the building, he says, and he is "quite frustrated" that the site remains quiet.

George Dow, the Armory project manager with Davis Bros., is looking forward to getting going. "We've been waiting almost a year," Dow says. All that's needed is for permit paperwork to go through, he says, and then the company can begin to clean out the mess inside the Armory "so whoever wants it, it'll be ready for them."

The question of "whoever wants it" remains hotly contested. The building at 122 W. Leigh St., built in 1885 to house the arms of a black militia unit, is the oldest armory in Virginia. Most Jackson Ward residents want it to become a community center or museum, Pantele says, and are strongly opposed to some developers' visions of turning the castlelike structure into offices, apartments or a home for the elderly. The important thing is to treat it with dignity, he says. It's not "just another building."

— Melissa Scott

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