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CenterStage to City: No Thanks?

Free Press publisher says Jim Ukrop, foundation failed to thank taxpayers.



Leave it to Ray Boone, feisty publisher of the Richmond Free Press, to rain buckets on Jim Ukrop's victory lap.

Ukrop's latest cold shower comes in the form of a Boone-penned editorial in last week's Free Press, in which Boone blasts “the grocer-banker's latest snub of the City of Richmond and its people,” citing a failure to give due credit for taxpayer financial contributions to the $73.4 million CenterStage project.

Ukrop is chairman of CenterStage Foundation and served as a host of opening weekend for Richmond's renovated Broad Street performance complex Sept. 11.

Among charges enumerated by Boone in his editorial: “The slick, reddish grand opening program didn't make a single reference to the outstanding contributions of the City of Richmond and city taxpayers to the CenterStage curtain-raising.” Boone also blasted what he called undue credit to corporate sponsors, including Ukrop's and First Market Bank, both Ukrop family businesses.

Ukrop was unavailable for comment. Boone's wife, Jean Boone, sits with Ukrop as a member of the CenterStage Foundation board. That board received more than $54 million in state and local public funds or tax credits toward the project price tag, with promise of a $500,000 yearly operating subsidy from the city.

This is far from the first round in the Boone vs. Ukrop saga. Most recently Boone called out Ukrop and his brother, Bobby Ukrop, over a disagreement related to distribution of the Free Press at Ukrop's Super Markets. The paper is no longer carried at Ukrop's locations.

Jay Smith, a CenterStage spokesman, noted that while taxpayers were not expressly thanked as a contributor in the program brochure, public contributions were given equal stage to Ukrop and other supporters during the opening weekend events.

“One of the things that we felt important for the community for their involvement is the open house we had on opening weekend, which was free and open to the public,” Smith says. “The fact that there were lines down the block and over 3,000 people … I think is evidence that people are excited about it and ready to support it as they have in the past and as we feel they will continue to do in the future.”

In an interview, Boone defends his point: “There's been a lot of divisiveness,” he says. The grand opening “was an opportunity to bring about the healing and to raise the spirit of the city. … and not continue the negative image of a handful of people making decisions and taking all of the credit at the expense of the taxpayer.”

“I hate to sound unreasonable about this,” Boone says, “but Jim Ukrop does this all the time.”

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