One Sheriff Enters, One Chief Leaves
A new and improved city jail opened four and a half years ago as the Richmond City Justice Center, built to reduce overcrowding with 1,032 beds. With about 800 to 900 people incarcerated each day, there are better conditions and breathing room.
But so, too, are there empty spots for staff. Sheriff Antionette Irving took over Jan. 1 facing 80 vacancies. While she's been filling positions, overtime to fill the gaps has been costly, according to a report in The Richmond Times-Dispatch: As of November, the jail was on track to spend $3.2 million more than its annual operating budget.
A Richmond native, Irving is a former college basketball player who rose through the ranks in the Henrico County Sheriff's Office. She beat longtime Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody Jr. last year.
"I just want to be able to make a difference, to show young people that came up in the same situation that I did that there are a lot of possibilities out there," she told Style in January. "Your circumstances don't have to define who you are."
While Irving works on her legacy as sheriff, another law-enforcement leader ends his. Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham announced his retirement Nov. 13 after four years as chief and a 31-year career.
Meals Tax Debate
Before this year, the last time the restaurant industry endured a tax increase was in 2003. Raised to 6 percent, it was reported to be temporary, with the intention of paying for CenterStage. Fifteen years later, not only is it still in existence, but it's going up. The mayor delivered an impassioned speech in mid-January, lobbying for an increase to 7.5 percent, which he said would generate more than $9 million in additional annual revenue to fund Richmond Public School facilities.
You may recall that some restaurant owners, shockingly, weren't thrilled with this plan. The tax increase went into effect over the summer, and it will fund the replacements of George Mason Elementary School, E.S.H. Greene Elementary School, and Elkhart-Thompson Middle School. The district plans to break ground on the new schools Dec. 19.
Gov. Ralph Northam's Inauguration
Once again, extreme weather plagued the otherwise dignified and celebratory inauguration ceremony of a Virginia governor. The skies didn't dump rain on the crowd like back in 2014, but they were gray and dreary, allowing very little warmth from the sun to penetrate the 40-degree day with that biting January wind.
Since his inauguration, Northam hasn't made many headlines, operating as a behind-the-scenes politician. In November, the governor was criticized for replacing two members of an environmental board just before a vote on a new natural gas facility in a historic black community.
- Scott Elmquist
On a chilly, rainy Monday evening, a few dozen activists gathered outside the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority offices. Community organizers planned the Jan. 8 rally to protest the agency's inaction after more than 50 families in Creighton Court, the housing authority-run development off Nine Mile Road, reported being without heat for weeks.
About two weeks later, executive director T.K. Somanath resigned amid the criticism. Former board member Orlando Artze stepped in as interim director, and the board has not yet hired a permanent replacement.
Executive Director Bails on the ICA
In a surprise move, the executive director of Virginia Commonwealth University's Institute for Contemporary Art, Lisa Freiman, decided to "return to her scholarly roots" just three months before the hot new museum was slated to open in April.
The well-known Joe Seipel, dean emeritus of the university's School of the Arts, stepped in as interim director. Lesley Bruno, communications manager at the institute, admits it was sudden and not discussed in the office prior to the announcement.
House Hunters Hit Church Hill
OK, the actual house hunting happened several months prior to January. But that's when an episode of HGTV's popular reality (not to be confused with realistic) show "House Hunters," aired featuring a young couple buying a home in our fair city. Kyle and Rachel Lane, newlyweds from Denver, ended up buying a quaint, two-bedroom row house in Church Hill, after turning down properties in the West End and Chesterfield. The house checked most of the boxes for the Lanes and their dog and pot-bellied pig, except for the lack of closet space.
According to the couple, that's part of the charm.
- Scott Elmquist
Showtime's "Homeland" Season Seven Airs
Let the drinking games begin! Richmonders with Showtime started watching season seven of the spy drama "Homeland" on Feb. 11, which was shot largely in Richmond. Andy Edmunds, director of the Virginia Film Office, says that while there hasn't been an official audit, the estimated direct spending in the state is "north of $40 million," which represents the biggest single expenditure in Virginia's history. Later, we get to see Emmy-winning Claire Danes rave about our restaurant scene in a tourism promo commercial for Richmond — "and don't even get me started on the yarn stores," she says in what should be a bumper sticker somewhere.
- Actress Claire Danes sits with a backdrop of Old City Hall at 1001 E. Broad St. in all its Victorian gothic glory.
Terra Cotta Warriors draw near record-setting visitation to VMFA
On March 11, 10 ancient, nearly life-sized terra cotta figures got some peace and quiet after being gazed upon since October. They were the highlight of 130 objects of ancient Chinese art and craftwork displayed at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The terra cotta works were selected from the 8,000 figures that still guard the tomb of Qin Shihuang, the first emperor of China. It drew audiences to the museum that eclipsed all previous shows except the Pablo Picasso exhibition in 2011.
James River Film Fest Turns 25
Largely due to the persistence of Mike Jones, the little indie film fest that could turned 25 this year and guess what? It's still in love with interesting movies.
Among this year's honored guests was acclaimed indie film director Kelly Reichardt ("Old Joy" and "Wendy and Lucy"), who turned out to be as cool in person as her movies. There was also a lovely tribute to one of Hollywood's greatest character actors ever, Harry Dean Stanton, featuring Richmond native and production designer Almitra Corey, who worked on his last picture, the sadly poignant "Lucky."
Richmond continues to grow as a film town. The Afrikana Film Festival, which this year scored hot director Boots Riley and a premiere of "If Beale Street Could Talk", our renowned French Film Festival and an ambitious Pocahontas Reframed Storytellers Film Festival are all doing well and serving overlooked demographics in film. But it's still nice to give some props to the first film festival that really got a foothold in the city.
Lucy Dacus Drops "Historian" Album
After turning national heads with her poised debut, young singer and songwriter Lucy Dacus releases her sophomore LP, "Historian" on Matador Records on March 2. Later in the year, it would be named best album of the year by Paste Magazine.
The Maggie L. Walker Governor's School graduate would also team up with other rising songwriters Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridges to form Boygenius and release an EP in November. Oh, and she played a lot of shows in between the releases. Yes, it was another big year for perhaps Richmond's most acclaimed working songwriter.
The crazy thing? She's only 23.
March for Our Lives
After 17 students and faculty died in a high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine's Day, teenagers around the country were furious. They started speaking out, calling elected officials and challenging the adults in the room to do something about gun violence, and March 24 they took that message to the streets. Here in Richmond, thousands joined the student-led rally, including Mayor Levar Stoney and Sen. Tim Kaine. Polls across the board named gun reform as one of the top issues going into this year's midterm elections, and the group Moms Demand Action has quietly and determinedly lobbied for stricter gun-related legislation on the state level.
- Scott Elmquist
The Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University finally opens
Talk about a public birth. For many months, motorists and pedestrians at Belvidere and West Broad streets, the city's busiest intersection, watched and wondered as an origamilike structure arose from a vacant lot. But by April 21, when the Institute for Contemporary at the Markel Center opened its glass doors, it was clear that the building, by internationally-celebrated architect Steven Holl, was unique. The wider world took notice too. Wrote Philip Kennicott, architecture critic for the Washington Post: "There is nothing else like it in Richmond, and it presents a striking contrast with the rest of the VCU campus, a messy urban environment of dispiriting, corporate-style academic architecture of the 1970s, and acres of generic infill from recent years." He suggested that "perhaps the virtues of Holl's building … will inspire VCU to think more seriously about improving architecture across the whole of its campus."
- Scott Elmquist
The General Assembly Building bites the dust
In the spring, with Virginia legislators settled into temporary office digs in the Pocahontas Building at the foot of Capitol Hill, the 106-year old General Assembly Building was met with the wrecking ball. Well, most of it; an architecturally-magnificent, south-facing facade was saved. But the structure itself, by Clinton & Russell, architect of many of the grandest buildings on Wall Street, wasn't spared. Neither was a 1968 modernist addition by architect Marcellus Wright and Son, a Richmond firm. Funny, the latter building was included in guidebook to exemplary buildings in the Old Dominion that the state, itself, published. While many other Virginia agencies operate from nearby, restored buildings, the clerks, delegates and senators saw fit to build themselves a Taj Mahal that could cost more than $300 million.
Jason Mraz Makes a Video
Jason Mraz, the now-California-based singer and songwriter who grew up Mechanicsville, spent a weekend filming an official music video in the River City. In partnership with the School of Performing Arts in the Richmond Community, which Mraz attended as a child, he filmed the peppy, catchy video with the help of a couple hundred local kids. We got a front-row seat of the filming process, not to mention an opportunity to sit down and chat with one of Richmond's golden boys who bailed for an avocado farm on the Left Coast.
- Scott Elmquist
It's all become a little formulaic. A small group of out-of-towners, holding guns and wearing the rebel flag, gathers at the base of a Confederate statue on Monument Avenue to protest potential plans for removal. In response, a significantly larger number of counterprotesters also show up, waving "Take them down" signs and singing songs about peace and acceptance. The police presence is abundant, and there may be a tense few moments of hurling insults from one side to the other, but it's nonviolent and overall uneventful. Ultimately both sides agree they'd rather be anywhere but there, and the event dissipates within a few hours.
We saw this scenario play out a couple times this year, the Confederates always outnumbered by the counterprotesters. Organizers have indicated that they intend to continue making the trip to Richmond to protest at Robert E. Lee's feet.
Sabrina Squires Signs Off
If you grew up around Richmond in the '80s, the '90s, or the 2000s — or anytime since then, and watched the news on WWBT Channel 12, you know her face and that big bright smile. After four decades in broadcasting, co-anchor Sabrina Squires retired May 23.
"One of my first orders of business is trying to rediscover what seven or eight hours of sleep is like," she told Style. "I've been a morning person thrust into a nighttime position for four decades. I'm just going to spend much of my summer away from news, working on self-care."
We'll miss you smile, Sabrina. Enjoy the golden years.
Police Shooting of Marcus-David Peters
In a perplexing sequence of events with devastatingly sad results, 24-year-old high school teacher Marcus-David Peters died in May after Richmond police officer Michael Nyantakyi shot him in the abdomen May 14. The officer's body camera footage revealed haunting footage of Peters, completely naked, running from his car into the interstate, where he writhed and rolled on the asphalt, before returning to his feet and lunging at Nyantakyi.
Peters' family members were vocal in the aftermath, adamant that he "needed help, not death." Protestors took to the streets in a "march for justice and reformation," demanding more accountability from the Richmond Police Department. After a months-long investigation, the commonwealth's attorney announced that the shooting was "an act of a justifiable homicide," and thus would not press criminal charges against Nyantakyi. Despite his family's insistence that drugs weren't involved, the toxicology report revealed that THC and Ritalin, for which he didn't have a prescription, were present in Peters' system on the day of his death.
The GRTC Pulse Begins
There were months of kvetching over the loss of business due to the extended construction period of the Pulse, a new, $65 million, 7.6 mile, bus route with terminal points at Rockett's Landing and Willow Lawn. But giddiness prevailed June 24, and continued during the system's first weeks of operation, as first-time bus riders, families and tourists gave it a try. Almost half a year later, patterns have developed: University students are discovering the system and the overwhelmingly African-American riders of the former GRTC Broad Street 6 route have switched to this new route. Sadly, three of the Pulse's 14 stations get little traffic, East Riverfront (in no-man's land), Allison Street in the Fan District, and Staples Mill in the West End.
- Scott Elmquist
Stoney's Team Turns Over
The original brain trust has left the building.
Much of Mayor Levar Stoney's new team remains alongside him, of course — no one more alongsider than his chief of staff and good buddy, J. E. Lincoln Saunders. But the last of the senior advisers he brought to City Hall rotated off this year.
Most notable was Jon Baliles, a former City Councilman, who ran against Stoney for mayor but took his name out of the running before Election Day. Stoney tapped him as senior policy adviser for innovation. He left the post in January, somewhat quietly, to take on new opportunities.
Three weeks later, Lisa Speller-Davis said goodbye to her post as senior policy adviser for engagement to become a policy analyst for the Virginia Department of Health Profession's Board of Nursing.
The third leg of the original policy adviser stool, Thad Williamson, left his part-time role with the mayor in June to focus on his full-time gig as an associate professor of leadership studies at the University of Richmond.
Senior advisers will come and go, but you'll always remember your firsts.
A Bridge Between Parties Leads to Medicaid Expansion
Gov. Ralph Northam declared it a little more than a thousand words into his 2,359-word inauguration address.
"It is past time for us to step forward together and expand Medicaid to nearly 400,000 Virginians who need access to care," he said.
Such speeches, delivered in formal attire on the steps of the State Capitol, are part of a grandiose ceremony every four years in which lofty ambitions are outlined and legislative hopes detailed. This Medicaid expansion, surely, was one of them — an idea that had been bickered about for years.
But this agenda item was checked off a few months later.
Perhaps the debates leading into the 2018 General Assembly session had laid the groundwork. Maybe it helped that Republicans in Congress ended up stumped on what to do about Obamacare. A few days after Northam's inauguration, a survey by Public Opinion Strategies, paid for by the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, showed overwhelming public support by Virginians to expand Medicaid.
It passed in May, was signed into law in June, opened to enrollment in November and is set to take effect in January. And people are signing up in droves. Officials say their original estimates — and costs — were too low, with the Washington Post recently reporting that 375,000 low-income residents will be signed up by June 2020.
People Turn Down the Volume on Rebel Yells
The debate's as old as the Civil War itself. But elected leaders, residents and even a theme park severed more ties with Confederate names and symbols.
One of Levar Stoney's first moves as mayor established a Monument Avenue Commission in June 2017 to explore ways to counter "nostalgia masquerading as history," in the form of Confederate statues that long have stood on the iconic avenue.
After research, discussions and some public meetings that devolved into shouting, the commission issued its final report a little more than a year later, in July. It suggested adding historical context to markers near the statues, working on new exhibits and statues, taking down the Jefferson Davis monument and creating a new work commemorating the United States Colored Troops.
Five months since the report was issued, no next steps have been implemented.
But at Kings Dominion, summer roller-coaster riders could climb aboard the Racer 75, formerly known as the Rebel Yell. Petersburg scrubbed three elementary schools of Confederate nomenclature, using a donation to help cover costs of the changes. And Richmond School Superintendent Jason Kamras says one of the proudest moments in his first year was flipping J.E.B. Stuart to Barack Obama Elementary School.
Up next: A re-emerged idea is under consideration to give the Boulevard a name that would honor tennis great and humanitarian Arthur Ashe.
Richmond Public Art Coordinator Quietly Bails
On July 6, Ellyn Parker, the city's public art coordinator, quietly left her job and took a position as an exhibition manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Her departure comes just a few months after City Council unanimously voted to gut the public art fund of $2.15 million for amendments to the mayor's capital budget, leaving $1 million in the one percent for the arts fund. In October, the City Council would at least pledge to put some of the money, about $264,000 back into the art fund.
Latest we checked, the public art coordinator job had not been filled.
Churches Take Sanctuary Seriously
An undocumented Honduran mother, Abbie Arevalo Herrera, and two of her children have taken sanctuary at First Unitarian Universalist Church — where they've been since June 19.
She was to be deported after an immigration judge ruled that she was in the country illegally. But she was offered refuge by the church after they learned that she feared for her life upon returning to Honduras due to an abusive ex-husband. Now she and her kids live mostly in the church basement, over near Byrd Park.
Arevalo Herrera is just one of many victims of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions' ruling on June 11 that domestic abuse is no longer grounds for asylum — and churches have been stepping up to help, taking their mission seriously. The American Civil Liberties Union also filed a federal lawsuit challenging the policy. But if a 2011 memo from the Department of Homeland Security recognizing churches as "sensitive locations" is reversed, Arevalo Herrera and others like her could be removed by federal agents and deported.
"I don't know how much time it's going to be [staying here]," she told Style. "But I do have the ability to stay here for as much time as I need, from the reverend. I have the faith and hope that something is going to move in the hearts of the people who have taken away our protections."
- Scott Elmquist
Media Owners Come and Go
The Richmond-based Virginia Mercury, an online media outlet backed by nonprofit donors, launched July 17. Headlines hit on safety in schools, eviction rates and needle-exchange programs to fight hepatitis C.
A handful of reporters with experience from print media, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Virginian-Pilot and Style Weekly, joined the venture to dig into the kinds of complex issues that not every outlet covers — or has the means to.
The Mercury is another sign of the long, slow media transition that's been underway since the dot-com days of the '90s. "We're hoping to quickly broaden our donor base to include others who support more coverage of Virginia government and policy issues," Editor-in-Chief Robert Zullo said in an email.
Zullo's résumé includes the Times-Dispatch, where Publisher Tom Silvestri announced in February, "The continued disappearance of print advertising, now coupled with rising newsprint costs, will mean in 2018 we will have to do more with fewer resources." Silvestri's announcement coincided with layoffs, eliminated positions, a tighter online pay wall and an increase in subscription prices.
Style Weekly, too, is navigating changes and a much smaller editorial staff under a new owner, after its private parent was sold to Chicago-based Tronc for $34 million in May.
Most recently, the TV station owner dance has hit locally, too. If the acquisition passes government muster, Nexstar, which owns WRIC-TV 8, will own Tribune Media, which owns WTVR-TV 6. It can't own both, so either way, both stations are getting a new owner.
Unannounced Bird Droppings
Forgiveness rather than permission may be an effective business approach in some scenarios, but city officials were none too pleased to wake up one morning in September to find dockless electric scooters had descended upon the streets of Richmond illegally.
Despite receiving a cease and desist letter, Bird continued operating without permission, simply dumping more scooters on the sidewalks as Seibert's Towing impounded them by the truckload. The mayor's office drafted an ordinance outlining a pilot program to allow the scooters, and Stoney noted that the process was made more difficult by Bird's refusal to play by the rules. The proposed cost would include a $1,500 permit application, and then an annual fee of $40,000 for as many as 100 scooters, $60,000 for up to 200 and $80,000 for as many as 500.
Bird scooters continue to pop up in the city, particularly around Virginia Commonwealth University. City Council has yet to approve the pilot program.
VCU Names New ICA Director
Virginia Commonwealth University names Dominic Willsdon as the new executive director of its Institute for Contemporary Art, replacing Joe Seipel, who served as interim director. The new head is leaving his job as the Leanne and George Roberts curator of education and public practice at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Prior to joining it in 2006, he was curator of public programs at the Tate Modern in London for five years, where he helped establish a partnership with the British Film Institute.
Monroe Park Redux
Monroe Park was akin to an unlovely moth when a construction fence cocooned it for a two-year makeover. Planners sought to make the late-19th century green space more hospitable, environmentally sustainable and safer. The joint venture included the Monroe Park Conservancy, a not-for-profit foundation, the City of Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University and a host of advisors. In October, when the park, defined by Belvidere, West Main, West Franklin and Laurel streets, was completed, a butterfly emerged. Some have argued otherwise, mourning the loss of substantial tree canopy. But varied plantings, water-control systems, a restored park house and a festive new gazebo are just a few of the new amenities that made the wait worthwhile. For the first time since 1968, when the university established its Monroe Park campus, the park itself is a worthy centerpiece of one of the state's largest universities.
- Scott Elmquist
It wasn't exactly the blue wave many predicted, but the House of Representatives flipped from Republican-led to a Democratic majority, with historic wins for women. In Virginia's 7th District, newcomer Democrat Abigail Spanberger edged out Republican incumbent Dave Brat, who was widely criticized for refusing to hold town hall meetings with his constituents. A former CIA officer, mother of three, Girl Scout leader and Richmond-area native, Spanberger ran on a left-of-center platform with the hopes of attracting conservatives frustrated with the Republican party.
Spanberger represents an economically and culturally diverse district, with upper-class suburban families in one corner and rural farmers in another. She's spent the last several weeks traveling back and forth between Central Virginia and Washington, and one of her first official moves as a congresswoman-elect was to vote against Nancy Pelosi's nomination for speaker of the House, sticking to one of her campaign promises.
A special election for the 7th District seat on the Richmond School Board also took place this November. Incumbent Cheryl Burke, a longtime educator who lived, taught and worked as an elementary school principal in the East End for years, beat out two first-time candidates for the spot on the board.
- Scott Elmquist
- Abigail Spanberger
A Powerful Coalition Pushes a $1.4 Billion Plan
This dream could be yours, they say. A group of wealthy, well-connected and powerful interests — pitching themselves as well-meaning visionaries with business sense who want to solve Richmond ills — spotted opportunities in a 10-block area of downtown and an aging Coliseum.
Give them a little faith, lend them some land and hand over new tax revenue from the next three decades generated by an 80-block swath of downtown — and they'll give you a revitalized downtown, hotel, housing, retail, restaurants and the biggest arena in Virginia. On top of it all, they say — there is literally no risk to you, and no new taxes.
Sounds good, right?
Now, for the messy part — trying to figure it all out. To evaluate the ginormous proposal, you must understand tax-increment financing, sift through pages of spreadsheets with predictions from the future, dance through city officials who push back against transparency and efforts of City Council to weigh the costs and benefits and figure out who exactly might be the people behind it all. (For now, that's not public.)
Could be amazing. Could be a catastrophe. Maybe it'll be somewhere in the middle. But make no mistake: You are no match for their money. The decision will depend on three City Council members. If three vote no, the dream is no mo'.
- Scott Elmquist
Groundbreaking at Church Hill North
Residents have seen this before, so many remained skeptical when local and state officials stuck shovels in the ground on Nov. 6 and smiled for the cameras at the old Armstrong High School site. The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority lost out on a 2016 grant that would have expedited the development of a new mixed-incoming housing community called Church Hill North, where some Creighton Court residents eventually will move. Without that grant, the funding process has been slow and complicated.
But the Community Builders, a Boston-based developer that's worked with the housing authority, has a history of successfully constructing and maintaining the affordability of communities like this one, and officials are optimistic that the model will work in Richmond. The developers project that residents will be able to move into the first phase by the end of 2019.
- Scott Elmquist
Carillon ceremony marks end of World War I
Gov. Ralph Northam, Delegate Betsy Carr, and Councilman Parker Agelasto were among state and city officials who attended colorful observances Nov. 11 marking the centennial of the end of the war to end all wars. A respectful throng gathered at Dogwood Dell and heard the bells of the Carillon, Virginia's memorial to that conflict, peal mournfully.
- Scott Elmquist
The 17th Street Farmers' Market gets a makeover
Merchants and restaurateurs in the vicinity of the venerable 17th Street Farmers' Market, an old city destination that had looked its age for far too long, clung by their fingernails financially as the demolition of old structures and construction of a sleeker, more event-friendly market took longer than expected. But perhaps the wait was worth specimen trees, handsome repaving, and even a new perch for the iconic terra cotta cattle heads (that once oversaw the former Sixth Street Farmers' Market downtown).
Even the fruit, flower and vegetable vendors, an essential fixture in the market, dating to the 18th century, are trickling back.
A New School Board Struggles with Money, Politics and Each Other
It isn't often you see elected officials give themselves failing grades, as School Board member Jonathan Young did in a recent Style story.
"We as a board have been highly irresponsible and entirely negligent," he said, about the state of inaction in fixing dozens of ailing Richmond Public School facilities.
Soon after taking office, the current School Board, now all-new, booted previous Superintendent Dana Bedden. It passed a five-year phase of a plan to fix schools, but has failed to land funding for it from City Council, though a meals-tax increase helped raise $150 million through bonds. That will pay for some of the plan.
There's a strategic plan, too, that will require big bucks.
Superintendent Jason Kamras took over in January, getting a 100-day plan underway and beginning work on a five-year strategic effort that the School Board approved earlier this year. In December, the board learned that it would cost $150 million more to implement those changes during the next five years.
Young isn't the only one of his colleagues to raise concerns about the state of schools. Mayor Levar Stoney's Education Compact, launched to bring together the mayor, School Board, City Council and others to discuss issues, hasn't exactly knocked it out of the park. But at least people are talking. Maybe more action will come soon.
The state Department of Education, too, is all up in our business. It's working with Richmond according to a Memo of Understanding set in the summer of 2017, which intends to make change and get all Richmond schools accredited by 2026.
- Scott Elmquist
- Superintendent Jason Kamras
Last Call at Strange Matter
You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here. Strange Matter, the latest iteration of the rock venue at 929 W. Grace St. right in the heart of student-ville, announces it will be closing Dec. 15 after a fanfare finale of shows.
This place has history: You may have known the gritty, darkened room as the Back Door in the '70s, Twisters in the '90s, or Nanci Raygun in the early 2000s. An incredible list of local and national touring bands have gotten sweaty in the small room, from the likes of a young Bruce Springsteen —before he was Bruuuuuuce — to the nasty bare ass of Oderus Urungus and even the occasional Luscious Jackson or Cows show. Due to its venerable history alone, we hope that it will stay a music venue. But right now, nobody's talking.
It doesn't appear, however, that Virginia Commonwealth University has swallowed it yet.
Whatever happens, please just not another lame upscale fast-food joint.