Forget baseball, what Richmond's downtown needs is another water feature.
So goes the reasoning of David Herring, executive director of the Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods. He proposes exhuming Shockoe Creek, a flood-prone stream that once flowed through the center of the city's oldest district.
“What if instead of trying to fight nature, what if we restored nature?” suggests Herring, offering the idea as an alternative to a Shockoe Bottom ballpark. He says restoring the creek would also solve the Bottom's flooding issues.
“We're trying to tame this thing that's been untamable since they've been building buildings,” says Herring, whose preservation group has been a vocal critic of the proposed ballpark, citing concerns it might pave over an area where Richmond became a center of the antebellum slave trade.
In addition to providing a channel for stormwater, Herring muses, his proposal has another practical purpose. He sees it as a centerpiece to a resurgent downtown market district that could be coupled with historic interpretation — and possibly a national slavery museum.
“Richmond has never gambled on tourism — we've always gambled on these wonky projects [like the Shockoe baseball proposal],” he says, envisioning a lined water walk not unlike the desolate Canal Walk. Except that unlike the canal, “you could have all sorts of [commercial] development along the [Shockoe Creek].”
Good thought, suggests fellow historian Jeffrey Ruggles with the Virginia Historical Society, but a bit impractical.
“It'd be no more difficult than rerouting I-95, I guess,” Ruggles says, noting an engineering nightmare that'd come along with sorting human waste from storm runoff since what remains of Shockoe Creek is now “one of the largest combined sewers in the country.”