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Demolition Crew

The racially symbolic Sixth Street Marketplace bridge was deposed too, destroyed as part of the $67 million in street-level improvements intended to make a derelict Broad Street more aesthetic.

If the booster party felt all-too-familiar, it was. Once again, Richmond's decision-makers gathered to laud the latest in downtown development, in a series of efforts to propel a city on the cusp of greatness.

The strategy seemed to work something like this: First build the convention center, creating an investment the taxpayers must protect. Then it's suddenly imperative to clean up the West Broad Street ghetto between Fourth and Eighth streets. After all, what would conventioneers think of so many street vendors and cryptic buildings? Then make plans to build a new hotel in the former Miller & Rhoads — a project that still has no financing — to go with the $67 million in public bonds to improve Broad Street. Finally, there is the big shebang: a massive performing arts center in the block Thalhimers once dominated.

This was the year Richmond's well-intentioned moneymen and politicians saw their grand plans begin to take root. Saving downtown has long been Richmond's elusive goal. Frustrated, folks such as James E. Ukrop, Beverley "Booty" Armstrong and J. Stewart Bryan seemed to take the reigns, deciding they could manage better than a dysfunctional City Hall.

Perhaps they were right. Retail didn't work. Jobs were leaking to the counties. And Route 288 created a city bypass. Maybe, as many people are convinced, the arts complex and the convention center are the solution.

But to date, downtown development appears to ignore a growing demographic. The influx of new apartments in Shockoe Bottom, along Broad Street near Virginia Commonwealth University and on Brown's Island and the emergence of Manchester as a hip artists' enclave suggest that Richmond is becoming a hotbed of young professionals.

Young people dig the city. But many of them live here and work in the 'burbs. The city's decision-makers, however, are stuck on the notion of luring out-of-towners and suburban families back downtown, something many urban-planning academicians say simply doesn't work.

Richmond's mayor-elect seems to get it. Since winning the election by a landslide in November, former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder has done nothing but lambaste city leadership for losing its focus on schools and crime. Clean up the streets and fix the schools first, Wilder seems to be saying, and the rest will follow.

In other words, give the people who already call Richmond home a reason to stick around, and economic development may blossom.

The Score continued ...

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