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Arts complex at the old Thalhimers building looks like a done deal …

Street Talk

City Seeking Cash For Arts ComplexBucky's Revenge: Beaver Gnaws FedFan Park Gets MakeoverBridge Raises Questions for Frequent UsersCity Seeking Cash For Arts Complex

Richmond officials say they are close to finding $2 million in public and private coffers to help the Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts purchase the adjacent Thalhimers building this summer, paving the way for a performing arts complex at the site.

Mayor Tim Kaine says he expects to present a funding plan to City Council in the "next several weeks."

"We've just got our microscopes out … to see how we can come up with it," he says. "I'm feeling optimistic about it."

Sources say the sale should close by Aug. 30.

The General Assembly appropriated $1 million for the $3 million purchase. While city funding for some or all of the balance is "not a guarantee at this point," Kaine says, he and others call the project essential to revitalizing the area.

"Everybody has agreed … it is the linchpin," says Philip Davidson, chairman of the Alliance for the Performing Arts, which is studying the need for expanded arts facilities here in light of an expected surge in visitors when the Richmond Convention Center expansion is completed in 2002.

Alan T. Shaia, whose family owns the Thalhimers building, says the sale is in a "due-diligence period" of t-crossing and i-dotting.

"The acquisition of the Thalhimers building will close on schedule," says Jack Berry, executive director of Richmond Renaissance. "We are working … to make this project a reality."

Carpenter Center Executive Director Joel Katz says Richmond Renaissance has been "integral in our efforts to raise $1 million from the state" and in the current quest for $2 million more. "It's clearly going to be a public-private effort."

Rob Morano

Bucky's Revenge: Beaver Gnaws Fed

In apparent retaliation for the slaying of a fellow Richmond-area rodent, a young beaver has launched a series of daring sunset raids on the largest symbol of the city's institutional order: the Federal Reserve Bank.

"We do have a beaver who is trying to set up residence here," says Marsha Shuler, spokeswoman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. She says experts tell her the beaver is trying to build a "summer home" at the adjacent Canal Walk out of Fed firs and bank birches.

The beaver's teething has claimed at least one tree and several shrubs. "He chews about three-quarters of the way and then we have to finish the job for him," Shuler says. "So they think this is a young beaver … trying to establish himself."

Last week Fed crews strung chicken wire around exposed trees and along the north bank of the Canal Walk to foil the furry menace. "We're hoping that he realizes there's no such thing as a free lunch," Shuler says.

Bucky the Beaver, a West End pest killed in a trap this spring, felled trees and allegedly threatened a dam before becoming a poster boy for capital punishment opponents. Fed officials hope the new beaver - call him Bucks — will leave before another such controversy arises.

With construction around the Fed and events at nearby Brown's Island, "hopefully [Bucks] will decide it's too noisy."

Shuler stresses that at no time has the region's money supply been in danger. "He'd have to sharpen his teeth up quite a bit" to get through an estimated 100 yards of earth and several-feet-thick concrete basement walls. Plus: "The kind of green he's interested in isn't the kind we keep in the vault."

- R.M.

Fan Park Gets Makeover

It's not at the top of the list for summer picnickers, but Jillian Kern doesn't think it has to be that way.

Kern, 18, has lived on Floyd Avenue her whole life and, naturally, decided to take on the Fan's Federal Park as part of her senior project at the Governor's School.

After a seminar class in which she learned much about the history of Richmond, Kern's interest spiked in her neighborhood's alleys or "pocket parks." To her surprise she found no one yet had taken on the challenge of restoring Federal Park, just blocks from her home. So Kern decided to do it herself and to incorporate the work into her school project.

"I went to the Virginia Historical Society and looked through all the Fanfares and Style Magazines," says Kern about how she conducted much of her research.

The park can be found between the side streets of Rowland and Shields and between Main Street and Floyd Avenue. It is so small it seems a stretch to call it a park. Still, it's a space Kern has thrown both her heart and her muscle into.

"It took three Saturdays of weeding out weeds and cutting liriope," says Kern. It took even longer, she says, to get the free mulch provided by the city.

But now that it's there, Kern is trying to figure out just when she'll have time - between graduating and working for her father — to spread it.

It's likely, she says, Federal Park will soon have benches, thanks to the Fan Woman's Club and Fan District Association.

Kern hopes, too, that she can find someone to keep the maintenance up and the weeds away when she leaves for James Madison University this fall. "I'd like to see if a local Girl Scout troop or Boy Scout troop could look after it," says Kern, adding, "while I'm away."

And while it may not be the likely choice for picnickers, Kern says Federal Park could be a temporary destination spot for hungry appetites.

"It's really a nice place to go if you're waiting for a table at one of the restaurants."

- Brandon Walters

Bridge Raises Questions for Frequent Users

Just what's up with the Huguenot Bridge?

That's the question gnawing at folks like Kathleen Marks, a Bon Air resident who often travels north across the 50-year-old bridge more than once daily.

It's been four years since the initial $1.5 million feasibility study of the bridge began in which the Virginia Department of Transportation claimed it would examine the ailing bridge to determine if it should be repaired or rebuilt.

And while the bridge has been the target of Sunday patchings for more than a decade, travelers say the closings have become more frequent. They want to know just how much longer they'll be forced to use either the Willey Bridge or pay to use the Nickel Bridge or Powhite expressway to cross the river.

"I wonder if it's benign neglect," says Marks. "I think some questions need to be asked, and we need some answers from VDOT."

The Huguenot Bridge is one of the city's older bridges and part of an aging infrastructure, says Tamara Neale of VDOT's public affairs office. And with 28,000 bridge-crossers daily, Neale says it's up to VDOT to ensure their safety. Neale assures that while other more modern bridges are inspected every other year, the Huguenot Bridge, because of its age, is inspected each year. And, she adds, "It definitely has a lot of life in it."

Currently, repairs are being made to the bridge's primary support system, comprising six pin-and-hanger devices that look like huge fasteners on the side of the bridge. It's the reason the bridge has been closed recently. Neale says the final support device will be repaired by the weekend.

Neale says the plans for the future - which likely will mean a new two-lane bridge with bike lanes and sidewalks - have not been scrapped, but may take longer than expected.

"We don't have the funds," concedes Neale, adding that much of the unprecedented monies allocated by the General Assembly to transportation projects already has been spoken for.

Neale anticipates the design plan and proposed location will be discussed at a public hearing either in the winter or next spring. Still, the project is at least five to six years away.

Until then, for folks like Marks, it means tossing a lot of change into the toll basket or taking chances on whether or not the bridge will be open.

"I just wonder if this has become the stepchild to VDOT," Marks says. "It seems we need to create a little ruckus to find out what's going on." — B.W.

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