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Ukrop Backs Shockoe Visitors' Center

A proposal to open visitors' center in Main Street Station gains momentum, support from civic leaders.

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What's visible and easily accessible to tens of thousands of travelers each day from Interstate 95, is considered among Richmond's most recognizable landmarks and is located within walking distance of some of the most historic real estate in what is arguably among the most historic cities in the country?

It's not a Richmond tourism and visitors' center located in historic Main Street Station — but it should be, Jim Ukrop says.

Ukrop, local grocer, banker and city booster, says he supports a proposal that envisions repurposing portions of Main Street Station and the massive train shed behind it as a historic tourism interpretive facility and visitors' center.

The current main visitor center is, in the recent words of the Valentine Richmond History Center's director, Bill Martin, “buried in the [Greater Richmond] Convention Center” in a hard-to-navigate area of Third Street that lacks convenient or free parking options.

Ukrop says Main Street Station may be the answer.

“It's right on I-95 there,” Ukrop says. “It seems to me you could create something like they have in Charleston [S.C.] that's like a welcome center, but as I recall that has a lot more going for it.”

In the interest of full disclosure, Ukrop says the idea is not his: “It was really a guy named Willard Strickland who came in to see me.”

Strickland, a retired area school teacher, is floating the idea among various local power brokers. He also bounced it off of Jim Crupi, the Texas consultant whose commissioned reports have offered advice to the city about getting off its 270-year-old rear to work toward a common goal for economic revitalization. Strickland says Crupi gave him both support and pointers.

“The welcome center emphasizes Richmond's location as a gateway to the South,” Strickland says, envisioning a center that also serves as a hub partnered with states farther south. “We could brand Richmond as ‘Where the South Begins.’”

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