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Carytown Waits On Whoopi; Diverter's Successors Likely to Inspire Talk; Jacobs Is Poised To Buy Track; Incubators Unite in Richmond

Street Talk

Carytown Waits On Whoopi

Before spinning filthy jokes about sex, tampons and male bathroom habits, Whoopi Goldberg earned a reputation as a nice woman in Carytown last week.

"She's a lovely lady," says Martha Rollins, owner of Martha's Mixture Antique Sales & Restoration, one of the shops Whoopi dropped by Thursday afternoon before her show at the Carpenter Center that evening.

On a 30-city, stand-up comedy tour, Whoopi, 51, is putting on a show that The Washington Post has called "very, very funny" but "really, really nasty."

But at the Glass Boat in Carytown, Whoopi was just really, really nice.

"She's really very nice and personable," says John Hyatt, the store's owner. "Didn't have any of that 'I'm-famous-and-you're-not' attitude'."

After browsing about 20 minutes, Hyatt says — about half the time talking on her wireless phone — Whoopi snapped up a Roosevelt sofa with a gold slipcover and floral pattern and an antique chest of drawers from the 1850s.

Earlier, she made good impressions at Brazier Fine Art. "She was absolutely delightful, and very, very genuine and nice," says Ann McDow, Brazier's gallery director. "There was not one bit of pretense about her."

Before Whoopi and a companion walked in, the Brazier gallery was relatively empty. From a distance, McDow says she thought she saw Whoopi. Then McDow got closer, she says, and "my goodness, it was Whoopi."

After walking through the gallery, Whoopi asked McDow to hold a couple of paintings, then spent about 45 minutes strolling through Carytown. When she returned, McDow says, the shop was, not surprisingly, a little more crowded. "The gallery looked like an opening there were so many people in here," she says. "And believe me, they were not looking at art."

No, they were looking at Whoopi looking at art.

Whoopi dropped several thousand dollars on two paintings, a piece by Addison Hodges and a Linda Kyser Smith painting of two women seated at a table. Then Whoopi was off to prepare for her show.

"And when she left," McDow says, "all the people left." — Jason Roop

Diverter's Successors Likely to Inspire Talk

Even though City Council recently voted to remove the diverter there, the intersection of Ryland and West Grace streets is sure to be talked about some more.

No surprise — the diverter has always brought controversy. But what's proposed to take its place isn't likely to simplify matters. Consider City Council's new Ordinance No. 16, which orders workers:

"To erect all-way stop signs at the intersections of Mulberry Street and West Grace Street; Allison Street and West Grace Street; and Strawberry Street and West Grace Street; to erect all-way stop signs and to install an all-way blinking red stop light at the intersection of North Meadow Street and West Grace Street; to erect stop signs at the intersections of Allen Street and West Grace Street; to install a blinking red stop light for east-west traffic and a blinking yellow caution light for the north-south traffic at the intersection of Allen Street and West Grace Street; to erect stop signs at the intersections of Davis Street and West Grace Street; to install a blinking red stop light for east-west traffic and blinking yellow caution light for the north-south traffic at the intersection of Davis Street and West Grace Street."

Oh, and the ordinance also gets rid of the diverter.

Council has not set a date yet to vote on the new signs and lights.

A date isn't set yet to tear the diverter down, says a spokeswoman with the City Clerk's Office.

But the thing is already disappearing, bit by bit: Last week, somebody, or something, pulled out a brick-size chunk of it. Maybe, with the diverter's end in sight, some people are turning it into the Fan's version of the Berlin Wall.

Since the 6-inch curb diverter was erected Jan. 12, 2000, at a cost of $6,000, supporters in the West Grace Street Association have claimed it helps control the nearly 8,000 commuter cars daily. Detractors in the Fan District Association and Monument Avenue Preservation Society argue that it only reroutes traffic to their residential streets.

Recently, parishioners have complained that the diverted traffic has been turning left onto Ryland and speeding through the alley separating St. John's United Church of Christ from its parking lot on Lombardy Street. — Brandon Walters

Jacobs Is Poised To Buy Track

Casino magnate Jeffrey P. Jacobs is set to buy every share in Colonial Downs. The Virginia Racing Commission is expected to give him its blessing during its July 24 meeting.

Jacobs, Colonial Downs' CEO, currently owns 44 percent of the New Kent horse track. But after making some failed attempts to sell the track, he has been angling to take over the whole thing.

Commission Executive Secretary Stan Bowker says Jacob's request to buy the racetrack's stock could be approved during the next meeting, but he adds that the final decision will rest in the hands of the stockholders. "The commission just approves the concept," Bowker says. "The stockholders will have to decide when they meet in the fall."

If the deal goes through, stockholders will be handing over an enterprise that has declined in value since its inception. In March 1997 Colonial Downs shares sold for $9.50. The Jacobs offer, valued at $8 million, would give the shareholders $1.10 a share.

Not everyone is happy. Tad Berman, a shareholder and longtime racing lobbyist, complains that Jacobs is taking advantage of the stockholders.

This wouldn't be the first time shareholders quarreled with the multimillionaire. In September 1999, shareholders in the Las Vegas business Boardwalk Casino filed a lawsuit against Jacobs on the grounds that he conspired to purchase the property by using "deceptive means to shrink the value." The case is pending.

Berman accuses Jacobs of doing the same with Colonial Downs. "In 1998 it [Colonial Downs stock] was down to 93 cents," Berman says. "Then he bought a whole bunch."

Berman says many shareholders are bitter about what they see as manipulative business practices that are bilking them out of their money.

"The shareholders put it [money] up because they had faith in Jacobs and the Racing Commission and they have both failed us," Berman says.

Berman notes that a recent Racing Commission Task Force recommended against turning over the business to Jacobs.

But Jacobs holds a formidable trump card: He puts up the purse money for the track.

"He's had to advance money every year except the first year," Bowker says. — John Toivonen

Incubators Unite in Richmond

Richmond's efforts to help high-tech startups will get some attention from international visitors in 2003.

The city's Industrial Development Authority, which owns and operates the AdvanTech incubator downtown, has won a bid for the 2003 international conference of the National Business Incubation Association. The conference will draw an estimated 850 attendees, filling up anywhere from 450 to 500 hotel rooms.

"It's a huge victory," says William J. Pantele, a member of the IDA.

An incubator pulls together companies that are off the ground but still young. Their proximity allows them to pool resources. So far, 54 high-tech companies are open in AdvanTech, Richmond's recently established incubator at 501 E. Franklin St.

Local officials hope they can attract some business groups from other countries to open incubator offices in Richmond. — J.R.

Puppynapper Sought In Carytown Theft

For nearly a week and a half Chris Chang has been frantically searching for Rex.

And if he doesn't turn up soon, Chang's worried the 10-week-old tan Chihuahua-mix puppy may die. Rex has heartworms, Chang says, and needs his second round of shots.

Rex's disappearance happened Thursday, July 5, between 6:30 and 6:45 p.m. in the parking lot at Ukrop's in Carytown.

Chang, a VCU student and Fan resident, had had Rex only four days. Chang and his girlfriend stopped to pick up dinner from the grocery store. They parked his red Ford Escort in a largely shaded space in front of the former Bailey's dress shop, he says. They were in the store for 10 minutes, he says.

When they returned, the car alarm was going off and Rex was gone.

Chang told Ukrop's workers in the lot. He then canvassed the area for witnesses. He found two. A person waiting in the car parked next to Chang's told him a woman talking on her cell-phone reached in the partly rolled-down window, unlocked the door and snatched the pup. Chang says a Ukrop's worker reported that the woman briefly entered the store holding the dog.

Chang called police an hour later. He was assigned an investigator the next day.

It's not like any other pet caper she has ever seen Detective Debbie Allen with the Richmond Police's property crimes unit says. "This is the first one like this," she says.

Allen says police are reviewing the store's inside surveillance video.

Meanwhile, Chang is holding his breath. He fears he's running out of time. "I've gone to the SPCA and every pound in Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield," he says. "I go twice each day."

He's spent three days passing out 600 fliers to shoppers in the parking lot. He hopes the culprit will return — or some other clue will turn up.

Chang dismisses any suggestion that the dognapper may have taken the pup to save it from the heat. "She was talking on her cell phone," he says incredulously. "No activist would be like, 'This dog is so cute. I just have to have it.'"

If you have any information on the dog's whereabouts, Chang asks that you call 440-2049. — B.W.

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