When others saw disaster, LaMar Dixon saw opportunity.
Dixon had been working in the mortgage business for eight years when the real estate market crashed spectacularly. In 2009, he thought, “This is my chance.” And with a Ford F-150 and a contractor’s license, he began doing some historic renovation work and project management for a friend, developer David Gammino.
Development fascinates Dixon, he says, because “you get an opportunity to look at things as they could be, and then you work backward and create it.”
He’s now embarking on an ambitious project: transforming the empty shell of the American National Bank Building at 201 W. Brookland Park Blvd. into apartments and a business accelerator. It’s an experiment in what he calls “urban repatriation”: encouraging entrepreneurs to invest in their neighborhoods by providing expertise and support for their business plans.
Dixon says this approach is the opposite of gentrification, in which development forces out longtime residents. “We, as an African-American community, have a value that has been a cornerstone of Richmond,” he says, and he wants his work to recognize that value.
Dixon served as president of the Richmond Crusade for Voters from 2013 to 2014 and has been a member of the Facilities Task Force for the Richmond Public Schools. He’s also a staunch supporter of his alma mater, Virginia Union University, and recently co-founded the Steel Jacket Club, a group that supports the school’s athletics program. Dixon envisions having VUU football players serve as mentors to boys in the league at Calhoun Community Center in Gilpin Court.
And Dixon is still a student himself. In 1997, he left school to go into business, but his mentor, professor Ramsey Kleff, made him promise to one day finish his degree. Kleff died in 2007, but Dixon is keeping his word. He’s working on a bachelor’s in history and political science.