As usual, Mayor L. Douglas Wilder stole the show. But at The Jefferson Hotel last week, a watershed event came and went with little fanfare.
Richmond Renaissance will remain as a legal entity after its merger with citycelebrations, the River District Alliance and Richmond Riverfront Corp. becomes official July 1. At Wilder's urging, the newly merged group will draw fewer city funds and operate with a combined full-time staff of 10, instead of the previous 15. Membership of the new board will continue to "reflect the racial and ethnic makeup of the City of Richmond's community," the new bylaws dictate, as it has in the past.
More importantly, perhaps, the merger marks a dramatic change in how the city's business elite influence city government, namely in the arena of economic development. All of the major downtown projects of the past 25 years starting with 6th Street Marketplace were hatched by Renaissance members.
The list includes the Greater Richmond Convention Center, the Canal Walk, and the now-infamous Performing Arts Center project, which drew the mayor's ire shortly after he took office last year. At last week's meeting, the mayor introduced details for his "City of the Future" plan. He trumpeted his "change is here" message, which went over coolly considering he spent most of last year castigating Renaissance members.
"It's a subliminal wafting across the air," he said. "You need to smell it and breathe it. It's there."
No doubt they smelled it. Since inception, the nonprofit has acted as the city's de- facto economic development office. Their projects, with the backing of Richmond's most influential business leaders, were often rubber-stamped by City Hall before Wilder came along. (To date, however, none has produced its intended result.)
At the end of last week's meeting, John W. Bates III, a Renaissance member and partner at McGuireWoods, told the group that its new downtown advocacy committee, "will help support economic development projects instead of engaging economic development projects" as its predecessors did.
He also mentioned the new board members, which include a list of up-and-comers such as Tim Davey, the Timmons architect who helped lead the push for a ballpark in Shockoe Bottom, and Sheila Hill-Christian, the new Virginia Lottery executive director who most recently served as director of the city's housing authority.
But they won't be hatching up new schemes to save the city. S