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Part 2

The Big Smooch

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Play for never, ever stopping bouncing. A highly staged public display of affection to Andy Stefanovich, "In Charge of What's Next" at Play. With relentless wackiness, Stefanovich has kept the company's signature red rubber ball bouncing at Play, the downtown Richmond marketing agency and creative consulting firm he and his sister founded 11 years ago. But sometimes Play's efforts to be charmingly anti-establishment are simply tiring. The job titles of employees, for example, don't tell you what they do, they tell you how creative the employees are in thinking up their job titles: "1.21 jigawatts," "#17" and "shaman of stuff." Company rhetoric is often cryptic: "Play is flexible and organic in its application and theory," a press release explained when the firm changed its name. And Stefanovich is religious about creativity. But apparently the company is doing something right. Satisfied clients include Nationwide Insurance, No Nonsense Legwear and American Express. And last year Play landed a huge story in magazine-of-the-moment Fast Company (as well as a cover story in Style Weekly). Still, the zippy, zealous attitude at Play can creep toward the cultlike. "Play is my life," one of them explained to Fast Company: "I try not to talk about it very much with friends who don't work at Play." Good idea. [image-1]New life: the iconic former Central Fedelity Bank. Downtown developers for seeing the city's potential. Style plants a big fat one on Richmond developers Robin Miller, Bob Englander, Louis Salomonsky and Mark Merhige for carving out building projects like jewels in the hands of careful gem cutters. Collectively they've helped Richmonders, once deflated by stalled or ill-conceived city developments, envision a downtown that bursts with beauty - and business. Whether unmasking potential in buildings long ignored or constructing new destination and dwelling hubs, their efforts could spruce up a previously tattered cityscape. Most notably to Miller's credit: the former Sydnor and Hundley building at Second and Franklin streets and the former Kensington Gardens, both being refurbished as luxury apartments. Englander's CathFord Group, meanwhile, promises to pump new blood into the landmark Central Fidelity Bank tower on Broad Street, possibly reinventing it as a 180-bedroom-suite hotel. Also in the works is the newly constructed Turning Basin project, which includes a Morton's Steak House and will serve as headquarters for First Market Bank. In Shockoe Bottom, Salomonsky is transforming the old railroad YMCA building at 17th and Main streets into apartments which will ultimately become a boutique and bed and breakfast. Blocks away Merhige converts idle space to retail and residential use as Davenport Alley at 14th and Cary streets. We'll forget that they've blown past their anticipated late-2000 completion dates. With more than $20 million invested, it's not likely any of these city projects will get the shaft. [image-2](Stephen Salpukas / Style Weekly)Tireless: civic activist John Mapp. John Mapp for being a civic soldier His day is packed with meetings to which he drives in a car covered with political (Democratic) bumper stickers. There's no doubting it: John Mapp, at 87, is an indefatigable civic activist. Mapp has always been behind the scenes. In World War II, while serving in the Pacific as captain of a PT boat, he lost (or won?) the coin toss that determined which boat returned Gen. Douglas ("I shall return") McArthur to the Philippines. In the end, he was lucky not to have to escort the general: Because McArthur was held in such awe, the boat that took him had to be repainted overnight, and a white cloth had to be laid down for the general to walk ashore on. Mapp retired from VCU as dean of continuing education and plunged right into the 1980 campaign, running for Congress as the Democratic candidate against Tom Bliley during Bliley's first run. Since then, he's had a finger in almost every civic pie and has served as president of many of the organizations to which he belongs. He currently belongs to: The Shepherd Center, the Torch Club, the English Speaking Union, Kiwanis and the Friends of the Richmond Public Library. To all these groups he has been an ideal and tireless member, the kind who still attends every meeting. Indeed, when two or three are gathered together, Mapp is apt to be there. And the city is better for it. [image-3] Sheriff Michelle Mitchell for taking a hit without flinching. Could anyone pick Sheriff Michelle Mitchell out of a crowd? A tepid, where-is-she-now kiss goes to the Richmond sheriff for being the elected city official people rarely see. Sure, it's not her job to publicize (or even allow) HBO's plans to film at the Richmond City Jail, just because the city's jail looked more worn than the county's. But you'd think that after two terms and more than seven years in office she'd have been in the spotlight a little more. Even when allegations that she paid herself for 19 weeks' worth of unused vacation time drew concern, Mitchell, unlike Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney David Hicks in his bonus-minded move, seemed relatively undisturbed by the mess: Nary a picture of her appeared in the papers. Next month she'll have to announce whether she plans to run for the sheriff's post again. And so far reports suggest she's likely to keep us guessing 'til the end. With her seemingly elusive public presence one might think she's buried in her work. If that's the case, perhaps more vacation time should be taken. [image-4]Great style: St. Romain. Channel 6 News for bringing glamour and energy to the local news. Funny how much more compelling local news is when delivered by someone with blonde hair, baby blues and flashing dimples. Compelling enough to get guys all over town to point their, um, clickers to Channel 6 every evening, hoping for a glimpse of Tonya St. Romain. And women watch her, too. When reporting streetside in brutal winter winds, St. Romain rarely flinches. She dons her pale-gray pea coat and baby-blue hat-and-scarf set and manages to report the news — respectably — while looking like she just stepped out of a Banana Republic ad. But St. Romain is just one of the many additions Channel 6 general manager Mark Pimentel hopes will bolster ratings. If you haven't seen 6 in a while, it's worth a visit. Aside from corralling what may be the best-looking team in the business, the station also appears to be scrappier than ever. And, the occasional commentary by Pimentel at the end of some newscasts is a gutsy, provocative move. We hope there's more where these came from. [image-5](Scott Elmquist / Style Weekly) Mark Russell Smith, Richmond Symphony music director, for being fearless. In spite of the struggles most symphonies are facing these days, Smith breezed into town about 18 months ago with a can-do attitude and the skills to back it up. He debuted as Richmond Symphony's music director in September 1999, replacing 12-year conductor George Manahan, who moved to the Big Apple to direct the New York City Opera. Smith's opening program included Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3, Opus 30 in D minor — better known as the piece that drove Geoffrey Rush crazy in "Shine." Symphony orchestras can seem antiquated in this era of Napster and MP3, so Smith is doing everything in his power to keep the symphony vital and relevant. Former colleagues remember him for being innovative and for boosting ticket sales, and Smith hopes to do the same in Richmond. Here's how he views his work: "It's my job to make sure our concerts are kick-ass enough that the music will really reach out to people. If they come and they're not won over, then it's my fault." You go, boy. [image-6] The charitable souls for warming more than cockles this winter. Because these four big-hearted twentysomethings — Michael Menefee Jr., Linda Cerrato, Amy Rybar and Lee Pambid — took it upon themselves to warm up the homeless people of Richmond during the winter by organizing a drive that collected 90 sleeping bags for the homeless. Seasoned veterans of volunteer service, having teamed up on projects during their college years at VCU as members of the service-oriented Alpha Phi Omega coed fraternity, the foursome tackled the plight of homeless people covered only with blankets and trying to make it through the night on the cold streets of Richmond. With the help of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, St. Bridget's School, St. James the Greater in Hopewell and Infilco Degremont Inc., 90 bags were donated to the cause. Days before Christmas, the group got up at 4 a.m., stuffed three cars full of sleeping bags and drove to Pennies For Heaven thrift shop on East Broad Street. Within 30 minutes, they had distributed all 90 bags to grateful — and surprised — people. "We were filling a basic, immediate need," Menefee says, "and they were surprised to find that people cared not just about giving them a meal or getting them a job, but about keeping them warm at night." The group's next project is to incorporate their enthusiasm by creating a nonprofit Charitable Souls Foundation. [image-7](Stephen Salpukas / Style Weekly)The mayor, repentant, returns.Leonidas Young for a second chance at freedom. Style gives an optimistic kiss to former Richmond mayor and inmate Leonidas B. Young. If he's convinced that what he found in jail is freedom, more power to him. Let's see what he does with it now that he's out. The Rev. Young will always remain dear to our scandal-loving hearts as the mayor who preached kindness, openness and understanding — while his right-hand man, Joel Harris, engaged in fraudulent double-dealing of stunning proportions (there is no Ralston family fortune!). When Young finally was sentenced in 1999 to two years in federal prison for mail fraud, filing a false tax return and obstruction of justice, it must have occurred to him that he'd pay dearly. Apparently, Young thought a year was enough time to serve: He tried to cut a deal last year to get his sentence reduced. But that request was rebuffed by a judge who said the information Young offered the courts in exchange wasn't valuable. Back to jail he went for another year. Perhaps now that he's back at the pulpit — as preacher for his New Kingdom of Christ Ministries — his penchant for poignant parables will prove more valuable. Jump to Part 1, 2,

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