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Could Hotel John Marshall Become a Hilton?; Local Resident Pushes for Memorial License Plates; Acid-Etched Graffiti Raises Fears and Danger; Former Cricketer Finds Fame; Urban Artifacts Moves, Gets into Movies

Street Talk

Could Hotel John Marshall Become a Hilton?

By the time folks stop bickering about whether 425 more hotel rooms downtown would help or hurt city business, another downtown hotel may have spruced itself up enough to actually mean business.

Daly Gray, a D.C.-area public-relations firm, confirms that its client, Marcus Hotels and Resorts, is in negotiations to buy or manage the Hotel John Marshall, the 70-year-old historic hotel at 101 N. 5th St. The company has been talking with Gilbert Granger, the hotel's owner.

Granger did not return Style's calls for comment.

Since Granger purchased the 443-room building in 1997 for $3 million, an additional $3 million has been invested in the property. But little seems to have been done. Renovations have consistently fallen behind schedule.

Enter Marcus Hotels and Resorts. The company is a division of The Marcus Corp., a Milwaukee-based, publicly traded company comprised of three divisions — motels, theaters and hotels/resorts.

Most notably, the company is recognized as a leader in taking over ailing historic city hotels, updating them and restoring them to buildings of grandeur. Last week a dedication ceremony was held for the company's work with the Phillips House Hotel, a Kansas City landmark. The hotel is similar in size and decor to the Hotel John Marshall.

Reports are that Granger is working on an arrangement with Marcus whereby the Hotel John Marshall would become a Hilton. But the city, for one, could stand in the way.

Most likely, officials are reluctant to offer the incentives and subsidies that the hotel has requested for fear of having to offer the same promises elsewhere, either to preexisting or new developers. Additionally, some suggest city officials and civic boosters are too intent to develop Broad Street development around the newly expanded convention center at the expense of the rest of the city.

The Office of the City Manager declined to comment on the issue.

Jerry Daly with Daly Gray says his clients may take a while.

"I know they've had some discussions," Daly says about Granger and the Marcus group. Still, he says, the climate is tentative: "Revenue per available room is down substantially. With the recent events [of Sept. 11] I don't know that things are normal. Everybody's sitting on the sidelines trying to figure out what to do." — Brandon Walters

Local Resident Pushes for Memorial License Plates

A Henrico County man is campaigning for a new Virginia license plate memorializing the Sept. 11 tragedy.

"What better way to show your pride and your patriotism than a license plate on your car?" Melancon says.

For Melancon, a 37-year-old New York native, the attacks hit home. His uncle lost 10 friends; his sister was 40 blocks away from the World Trade Center when the terrorists struck.

After Melancon came up with the idea for the plates, Signs by Tomorrow created a design prototype at no charge. Then Melancon started a petition drive. Recently he staked out a Ukrop's parking lot for three hours, nabbing 140 signatures.

Melancon says he wants half the proceeds from each plate, $6, to go toward the American Red Cross relief fund. The rest would stay in Virginia, he says, to help families of military personnel who might fall victim to war.

But there may be some hurdles. The General Assembly must sign off on new designs. The soonest that could happen is January, Melancon's delegate, John S. "Jack" Reid, R-Henrico, told him.

And before it can go on sale, the plate has to be a proven seller. The Department of Motor Vehicles commissioner and the plate's supporters must collect 350 prepaid applications before DMV will make the plate available.

"There are a lot of specialty plates that never make it on the street," says DMV spokesman Johnny Perez. "We have had a number of inquiries about getting a plate to commemorate the Sept. 11 tragedy, and I would not be surprised if we see at least one bill authorizing a plate."

Still, it can take up to three years for a plate to hit the streets.

Melancon is undeterred. And even if his statewide plate isn't approved, he has at least one car covered. His car's new license plate — fresh from the press — now reads "NY-91101."

"We have a tendency to forget these things," he says, "but I can't give up on it." — Laura Bland

Hull Street No Longer Runs Through Company

After 77 years on Hull Street, electrical contractors Chewning & Wilmer are bidding adieu to the neighborhood — and the city.

Partners Charles Chewning and Potsie Wilmer founded the company in 1924. Consider this: The company's Virginia Commonwealth Contractor's license is No. 000006. "We don't know if there ever were 1 through 5," says Chewning & Wilmer CEO Bill Powell.

But recently, Chewning & Wilmer's growth has been inhibited by Hull Street. The company currently has its employees working in two offices — one on each side of the street.

"Frankly, we're bursting at the seams," says Powell. "It's been a hindrance having Hull Street in the middle."

With about 30 office employees and more than 150 field officers, Chewning & Wilmer's departure is sweet sorrow for the city. To many, Chewning & Wilmer will be remembered as the bedrock of Manchester, one of the few vestiges of a day when Hull Street shone.

Perhaps no one remembers those days as well as Jed Wilson, 80, former CEO. Wilson's first day with the company was the day after he returned from fighting in World War II with the Army. That was March 1, 1946. Back then, five folks worked in the office and 25 electricians worked in the field.

Chewning & Wilmer has installed electrical work for household names like Philip Morris, DuPont, Nabisco, Coors Brewing, Busch Gardens and Anheuser-Busch. In 1955 the company began a yearlong project for Colonial Williamsburg. That job cost $1 million. Today it would be at least $15 million, Wilson says.

The company considered staying in the city. It was even on the verge of spending $1.5 million in renovations that could have boosted the ailing corridor.

Instead, the company purchased the former FedEx building at 2508 Mechanicsville Turnpike. Plans are to move the company in November.

Wilson, meanwhile, says he's glad to lose the three-story staircases on both sides of the street. At the new site, he says, "the biggest step is half an inch from the parking lot to the threshold. And I figure I've crossed Hull Street 32,000 times. I'll be glad not to." — Brandon Walters

Acid-Etched Graffiti Raises Fears and Danger

Two weeks ago a storeowner in the Fan found a faint graffiti tag scrawled across her shop's front window. Nothing new, she figured.

"I just thought it was paint," says the storeowner — who, fearing retaliation, asks not to be identified. "I was scraping the residue off with my bare hands."

But then the flaking marks on the window sparked a memory of the glass-etching art she'd practiced two decades ago.

She realized that it wasn't paint the vandals had used to frost the glass, but corrosive acid that can destroy flesh and decalcify bone.

"It's only because I know what it is that I stopped playing around with it," says the storeowner, who promptly washed her hands and called the police.

Detective Deborah Allen, who investigates property crimes for the Richmond Police Department, says acid-etching graffiti is becoming commoner in larger cities. It was rare in Richmond — until recently, when three cases in the Fan area were reported to police between Sept. 24 and 26.

Allen says the substance used was probably hydrofluoric acid, a highly corrosive acid used mainly for industrial purposes like glass etching and metal cleaning. It may have been applied with a sponge or a marker, she says. Police, trying to find out where the vandals obtained the acid, are investigating hardware and art supply stores.

Unlike traditional graffiti, vandalism with acid is a felony because it leaves permanent marks that often cause more than $1,000 in damage. But that permanence is what makes the acid attractive to vandals, she says — although it's not as user-friendly as old-fashioned spray paint.

Inhalation of the acid fumes burns eyes, nose and throat and can cause death, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Skin contact with the liquid may result in severe burns, swelling, blue-gray discoloration, and destruction of tissue.

"It's not a healthy thing that they're playing around with," says the storeowner. "But that's their problem." — Melissa Scott Sinclair

Former Cricketer Finds Fame

In Richmond, cricket means a chirping critter.

To Alvan Suah, it's a sport and a passion.

But Suah, 62, didn't mind that few Richmonders played the British bat-and-ball game or even knew what it was. It had been 23 years since he'd been part of a cricket team, and his days traveling the world for matches were nearly forgotten.

That is, until a letter arrived at the end of August. Suah had been nominated for the Cricket Hall of Fame, it said, and the Connecticut Cricket League would like him to captain its all-star team in a series vs. a British team from Sept. 28 to 30.

Suah was flattered, but apprehensive too — for the last two decades he'd been pursuing other interests, like his partnership in the Jerk Pit restaurant on West Broad Street. Getting back into shape would be no easy feat.

"When I got the letter I started running and loose my body up. Nimble up," says Suah in his rich Jamaican accent. A month's training paid off, he says. Although two games had to be canceled that weekend — "Even the English were complaining the weather was a little too glum for them," Suah says — Suah's team trounced their opponents on Sunday. He boasts, too, that he got the autograph of the "Willie Mays of cricket," Sir Vivian Richards.

Suah's formal induction into the Cricket Hall of Fame will take place next year, says Joslyn Chance Sr., assistant director of the CHOF, who once played against Suah in Jamaica. Suah's a "good cricketer all around who can bat, bowl and field," Chance says.

A 1971 team roster labels a photo of Suah in his white uniform as,"The steel headed skipper who wins them all."

In a cricket match, two teams of 11 players compete on a large oval field, or pitch, with a batting area at the center. At either end of the pitch stands a wooden wicket 28 inches high. Teams take turns trying to hit a wicket with the ball, while the opposing team members aim to protect the wicket and to score runs by hitting the ball.

It's a physically demanding game that sometimes takes days to complete. But Suah thinks he may now try to play again, or at least "tune myself up," he says. "I'm going to take the challenge up."

Melissa Scott Sinclair

Urban Artifacts Moves, Gets into Movies

Moving a vintage shop is like moving "a house full of junk," says Meredith Tracey, co-owner of Urban Artifacts. "For us, it's very chaotic."

After four years on Main Street, the shop's moving to 3003 W. Cary St., hoping to attract a new crowd of customers.

The jumble of clothing and knickknacks to be moved is overwhelming. But for a moment, Tracey and partner Didi Chisholm take a break in the glider on the store's front porch and talk about what they hope will be a boost for business: the Oct. 19 release of "Riding in Cars with Boys," a drama starring Drew Barrymore, Steve Zahn and heaps of clothes from Urban Artifacts.

No, the stars probably aren't wearing their vintage threads, Tracey says. But the set decorator, a friend of Chisholm and Tracey, asked them to provide 800 to 1,000 pieces of clothing for background in the film, which spans 20 years, from 1968 to 1988. It seemed like a tall order, but "he knew we could get our hands on it," Tracey says.

The clothes appear throughout the film. "There's scenes with piles of laundry, or clothes strewn around a teen-age girl's room," Tracey explains.

Which is pretty much what Urban Artifacts looks like now — but its owners say order should be restored by Oct. 20, when the store opens for business in Carytown. — Melissa Scott Sinclair

After Sponsor Cancels, Children's Festival Is Saved

Dottie Brooks can't wait to run through a huge maze, play some laser tag and become a human bowling ball at this Saturday's Adventure Island for Kids.

But Brooks isn't exactly a kid. She's 38. That's OK, she says: "I like to do things that kids like to do."

Perhaps that's why she's promoting her own children's event. After learning about the cancellation of this year's Richmond Children's Festival, Brooks decided to transform Brown's Island into Adventure Island for Kids.

"I was really sad for the kids of this area," she says.

The sponsor of the festival, the Arts Council of Richmond, canceled its sponsorship of the event in order to spend more time working as an advocate for Richmond's arts organizations. The Children's Festival, which attracted thousands of children and their families each year, had been a Byrd Park event since 1986.

Brooks, who directed the last Children's Festival, has been promoting events through her company, Brooks Marketing and Event Production, for about three years. Before that, she did the same type of work for radio stations XL-102 and Q-94.

Brooks has wanted to do her own children's event for some time. "This is really focused 100 percent on fun," she says. "You can envision kids running from one adventure to the next."

Brooks adds that if the Richmond Children's Festival returns in the future, she plans to keep on organizing Adventure Islands, just at other times. And maybe she can work with the Children's Festival, too.

Adventure Island for Kids is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 13, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., on Brown's Island. Admission for children ages 3 to 12 is $5; the parents who accompany them are admitted free. A portion of Adventure Island's proceeds will benefit the Children's Miracle Network. Sponsors of the event include Brooks Marketing, Magic Special Events, Q94, The Beat and Lite 98.

Brooks and her friends will have to wait until the end of the day to have fun. She's looking forward to running through the obstacle course and hopping on inflatable games, surrounded by colorful balloons and decorations.

"After 6 o'clock when it shuts down," she says, "it's going to be our turn to play." — Laura Davis

Pizza, Gas, Cell Phone — Campaign Expenses

Black-tie dinners. First-class plane tickets. Slick television ads.

You won't find these among would-be delegate Chris Elliott's campaign expenditures.

Instead, the Republican's campaign has recorded splurges on pizza. Gasoline. Cell-phone bills. In fact, his list of campaign expenses sounds like a college student's credit-card receipts — but that's no surprise.

Elliott, 21, is a political-science major at the University of Richmond, where he's been balancing a full course load with his efforts to take the 71st District House of Delegates seat from two-term incumbent Viola O. Baskerville.

The Virginia Public Access Project (, which posts detailed accounts of political candidates' campaign expenses, totals Elliott's funds raised in 2001 as $1,718. His expenses amounted to $1,353. Elliott says VPAP's figures aren't quite up-to-date. He says he's now raised $5,000 to $6,000.

From January 2000 until the end of August, Elliott spent most of his campaign funds on phone bills ($505), producing flyers and bumper stickers ($294) and travel ($220) The travel expenses paid for gas and services — including an oil change — for the official Elliott 2001 campaign vehicle. "It's a Chevy Tahoe and it's mine," Elliott explains.

And the extravagant expenditures at the Strawberry Street Cafe ($11) and River City Diner ($18)? Thank-yous for Elliott's volunteer campaign managers, he says.

By the way, according to VPAP's records Elliott's opponent, Baskerville, spent $2,421, more than Elliott's total budget, just to pay for fund-raising events. As of Aug. 31, she had raised $31,897 and spent $27,206.

Elliott readily admits he never hoped to run a big-budget campaign. "People aren't going to be pouring money in here," he says of the Democratic-majority district.

Eschewing pricey campaign ads, he's instead tried to win votes by knocking on doors until his knuckles are sore. "This grass roots is my focus," he says. "There is no other focus. That's it."

And he points out that his low-budget campaign precludes a war of negative TV ads: "It makes for a very clean race." — Melissa Scott Sinclair

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