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Fight With City May Force Raft Firm to Close



Richmond Raft Co. may be all washed up.

The company, which for 18 years has operated a rafting business within the city on the James River, says it may have no choice but to close shop as a result of a revised contract proposal by the city.

Company owner Michael "Buzz" Kraft recently sent a three-page letter to City Council members asking them to intervene in his contract negotiations with the Department of Parks, Recreation & Community Facilities. He says the city wants to raise his rent — the company pays a commercial access fee for entry to the river via city parks — from $6,200 a year to about $60,000.

Also, Kraft says the city's new contract proposal would allow the city to terminate the contract at "any time for any reason." In a letter to Parks and Recreation, and copied to City Council members, Kraft wrote that Richmond Raft had already begun closing its doors. The company employs about 60 people and brings in approximately $1 million a year in economic impact, Kraft says.

The problem, says Kraft, is the city is allowing other rafting businesses to use the river without charging them rent or improving access to the river. Now, he says, the number of people using the "narrow, rough roads" to access the James are making it difficult for his firm to do business.

"In the past, we were the only ones asked to make a payment," Kraft says.

City spokesman Linwood Norman says the city is still in discussions with Richmond Raft to negotiate an "arrangement whereby there would not be exclusivity so as to allow recreational enjoyment of the river to everyone." City officials, he says, are meeting internally to discuss the matter this week.

Richmond Raft's previous contract with the city expired Nov. 1. Kraft had sued the city midcontract, saying the use of the river by other rafting groups — coupled with the lack of new river access and promised upgrades by the city — violated his company's agreement. A Richmond Circuit Court judge ruled in Kraft's favor in May.

Kraft still holds out hope that he can reach a new agreement with the city that will be financially feasible. If not, he says, he's ready to move on.

"We just can't base a business based on uncertainties," says Kraft. "I hope they will see what we bring to the city." S

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