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Richmond Ranked: The Score 2015

Highs, lows and remarkable moments of the year. Style Weekly's annual rating of the city zeitgeist.

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+9: Bicycles Become the Spoke of the City

The year of the bike was dominated by the UCI Road World Championships, and the hordes of spectators, hoopla and economic activity surrounding them. But the last leg of the Virginia Capital Trail was completed too. The 52-mile route, celebrated for its beauty and accessibility, opened a year behind schedule in October, but just in time for the race.

All the while, a web of bike paths and lanes increasingly linked the city together — bringing bike enthusiasts a step closer to safe, motor-vehicle-free routes. It’s all part of a vision recognized by the city’s bike master plan, released in May 2014. It lays out a path for adding bike infrastructure as far out as 10 years. Potential state, local, nonprofit and federal funding sources are identified in the plan.

A bike boulevard is planned along two-mile length of North 29th Street in Church Hill. The city is expected to provide $130,000 for the $650,000 project, the rest to be paid for through federal funds. It’s the city’s second bike boulevard — a corridor meant to protect bicyclists with traffic calming features. The first was along Floyd Avenue. Also worth note is the Armstrong Bike Park, which opened last year and is gaining ground, billed as “the nation’s first and only inner-city mountain bike park,” a 1.5-mile trail within Fairfield Court.

But as the love for bikes reaches its zenith, concerns loom. Much disapproval shadowed the Floyd Avenue project, with Fan residents worrying about the availability of parking. And serious accidents brought safety to the forefront.

Cyclists from around the world pedal up the steep cobbles of Libby Hill during the UCI Road World Championships. The race was a local high point for all things bike. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Cyclists from around the world pedal up the steep cobbles of Libby Hill during the UCI Road World Championships. The race was a local high point for all things bike.

+2: A Little Food Enclave Expands

Once upon a time, an East Grace Street restaurant row was a just little idea bouncing around in Jason Alley’s head. Along with partners Michele Jones and Ry Marchant, he opened Pasture four years ago on a street of abandoned downtown retail shops. It was slow going for a while. Rappahannock opened on the next block and that helped things. CenterStage, soon to be renamed the Dominion Arts Center, provided diners, albeit erratically.

Things felt a little shaky when 525 at Berry Burk couldn’t make a go of it and shut its doors in 2014. But by the end of 2015, the street seems poised to roar back to life. Julep’s New Southern Cuisine moved from Shockoe Bottom to 420 E. Grace St. Pop’s Market on Grace, a breakfast and sandwich place plus market, moved into the old Cokesbury Books building. Lucca Enoteca Pizzeria, owned by Maya Mexican Grill, and Tequila Lounge’s Maria and Michael Oseguera, took over the Berry Burk space, and across the street, the Secret Sandwich Society plans to open in the spring.

Rapp Sessions, a small oyster bar to hold the spillover from Rappahannock, will slightly lengthen the strip at the beginning of the year and help ensure that if you can’t get a table in one place, you can bend an elbow and down a raw one to hold you over until you sit down at the next spot.

Richmond solo artist Anousheh, center, performs at the Hippodrome backed by her band at the inaugural Fall Line Festival in 2013. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Richmond solo artist Anousheh, center, performs at the Hippodrome backed by her band at the inaugural Fall Line Festival in 2013.

-3: A Local Music Festival Pulls the Plug

Sure, if you have the backing of a national organization such as the National Folk Festival to get your ball rolling, you stand a good chance of survival. But the music-festival circuit can be rough. The homegrown Fall Line Fest started in 2013 with more modest means, highlighting local bands while piggybacking on touring bands headed to and from the larger and easier to navigate Hopscotch Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina.

This year, organizers pulled the plug citing “an inability to attract sponsors” and instead held a smaller, multivenue event with some of the bands already booked called Extragavanza. Fall Line folks had it right with a grass-roots approach that included local artists, but holding a mostly local festival with no big-name hype isn’t enough in the era of huge music festivals, where everyone is competing for advertising dollars and media attention.

Still, festivals like these have a way of increasing a city’s profile and bringing in much-needed dollars for local business when they succeed. Maybe one day.

Protesters object to using the Confederate Memorial Chapel for an artistic exhibit during InLight Richmond in November. Organizers said they used it respectfully. - ASH DANIEL
  • Ash Daniel
  • Protesters object to using the Confederate Memorial Chapel for an artistic exhibit during InLight Richmond in November. Organizers said they used it respectfully.

-5: Richmond Can’t Stop Stumbling Over the Confederacy

It's been 150 years, but the Confederacy still rankles. Richmond always finds itself embroiled in the debate over this chapter of its history and how symbols should or shouldn’t exist as a reminder. Nothing is as divisive as the Confederate flag itself, playing out recently over the backdrop of the Civil War sesquicentennial. But the issue reached a hot point locally after the shootings in Charleston, South Carolina. Shortly after the tragedy, the symbol was removed from that state’s capital grounds.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe followed suit by banning a state-sponsored license plate featuring an image of the Confederate flag. It was a move that infuriated flag supporters, who rallied with cries of “heritage not hate.” The Virginia Flaggers took to the streets in convoys of lifted trucks decked out with flags to protest what they saw as an attack on their First Amendment rights. They also came out in full force to rally against an artistic expression — also a form of free speech — when the Confederate Memorial Chapel was used in the annual InLight Richmond art exhibition. The controversy attracted droves of spectators eager to see the work. But a blatant statement about the flag’s ties to the days of slavery was made when the statue of Confederate president Jefferson Davis was vandalized with the words Black Lives Matter.

The Confederate debate was showcased to the world during the UCI bike races. As international visitors craned their necks to look at the statues on Monument Avenue, some local political activists criticized the city’s decision to include the corridor in a race route. But the Confederates capitalized on the high number of spectators with a misspelled banner that read “Confederate Heros Matter” pulled across the sky. The flaggers said the snafu didn’t take away from their point, and later digitally added the missing E into online posts.

Superintendent Dana Bedden must lead the Richmond Public Schools while city officials grapple with how to pay for a massive plan to overhaul ailing buildings and solve overcrowding. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Superintendent Dana Bedden must lead the Richmond Public Schools while city officials grapple with how to pay for a massive plan to overhaul ailing buildings and solve overcrowding.

-6: The School Board Must Fight For Its Place at the Table

In October, school and city officials met for the second time in 11 years to discuss how to pay for the division’s facility needs. The meeting was a gesture of good will, but was overshadowed by the absence of Mayor Dwight Jones despite an invitation from City Council. His chief of staff attended but left before budget talks began.

More than two months later, tension continues to build as school and city officials face off over the $169 million first phase of a 15-year plan to overhaul facilities. The city won’t have the money to move forward without raising taxes, which the Jones administration says it won’t do.

School leaders say that something must be done immediately to keep classes in Richmond’s South Side from bursting at the seams. Richmond also is faced with aging schools that are leaking and crumbling after countless Band-Aid repairs.

But they’ll have to wait in line. The city’s debt capacity is only $50 million, and other projects such as road and vehicle repairs are competing for that money. City leaders have suggested that the school system try redistricting to alleviate congestion, but schools officials say that’s not enough. It’s already part of the first five-year phase of the facility plan. Over 15 years, officials hope to spend $563 million on the effort.

Ardent Craft Ales co-owner Kevin O’Leary. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Ardent Craft Ales co-owner Kevin O’Leary.

+4: Scott’s Addition Reaches a Zenith

Restaurateurs, brewers and developers have been breathing new life into Scott’s Addition, and the neighborhood seemed to come into its own this year.

The area thrives from a mix of factors. It’s centrally located, near interstates 64 and 95, and close to such amenities as The Diamond and Movieland at Boulevard Square. The neighborhood’s historic designation allows developers to take advantage of tax credits to revitalize buildings. There’s also the bonus of city real estate tax abatement, which gives developers a break on paying taxes on improvements for as long as 10 years.

This section of town is packed with industry, but has grown more diverse with businesses that follow new lofts springing up constantly. Roughly 1,200 apartments opened in 2014, according to the Scott’s Addition Boulevard Association. Other major renovations are in the works, too. A former asphalt plant on Roseneath Road is scheduled to be converted to 300 luxury apartments, while the Seaboard Bag Corp. building is now a 94-unit apartment complex, complete with solar power.

As rooftops are raised, restaurants and breweries follow, joining early comers such as Lunch and Supper and the Lamplighter Roasting Co., which have become staples of the neighborhood. Well known chef Peter Chang, of Peter Chang’s China Cafe in Short Pump, plans to open a restaurant in the Hofheimer building on West Broad Street. The Veil Brewery and Blue Bee Cider are scheduled to open in 2016, and will join the trailblazing Ardent Craft Ales, which started pouring last year.

Will Wade - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Will Wade

+3: VCU Recovers From Its Breakup With Shaka Smart. (Kind of).

The coaching baton passed to Will Wade in April without any real havoc — unless you count repeating the word endlessly to make sure fans know their team remains familiar and marketable. But as always, the proof comes on court, and the Rams no longer have the key players that made havoc so effective. While it’s not quite panic time, fans got nervous after the Rams lost to most of the good teams they played this season.

But hey, whereas Shaka Smart’s name recognition was a great recruiting tool, Wade is no slouch in that department. He’s young and hungry to prove that his brand of hustle and obsessive analytics works. It’ll be easier to judge his debut after conference play starts in the solid Atlantic 10. For now, cool your panic room.

University of Richmond president Ronald A. Crutcher. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • University of Richmond president Ronald A. Crutcher.

+3: The New Chief Spider Starts in Tune

When the University of Richmond searched for a president to replace noted historian Edward Ayers, it came up with a remarkable choice — a veteran college administrator and well-known cellist who’s played with major orchestras.

Ronald A. Crutcher arrived on campus this summer from Wheaton College in Massachusetts, which he led for 10 years. Acclaimed for his humility and acumen, he quickly settled into his new role as only the 10th president of the 180-year-old private university. He jumped right into such activities as the UCI Road World Championships, which saw a race start from the Richmond campus, and lent a helping hand on freshman move-in day.

He told Style that one of his goals was to make sure that Spiders continue to be need-blind when it comes to financial aid. With its endowment totaling more than $2 billion, UR is trying to make certain that students from families who make less than $60,000 a year have access to a 100-percent tuition ride.

“Accessibility and affordability are dear to my heart,” says Crutcher, who’s making sure that revenues stay healthy. One thing that might help at fundraising cocktail parties is his uncanny ability to listen to several conversations at once thanks to his years playing in orchestras.

Pizza may have started owner Victoria Deroche’s business, but her new restaurant expands the menu far beyond the confines of a pie. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Pizza may have started owner Victoria Deroche’s business, but her new restaurant expands the menu far beyond the confines of a pie.

+1: Mobile Food Options Get Their Legs

It’s every little food truck or stand’s dream to find a permanent place it can call home. And several made the transition this year. Pizza Tonight, seen everywhere across town serving its signature pig and fig pies out of a wood-fired mobile pizza oven, moved into the old Aziza’s on Main space, expanded the menu and transformed into Pizza Tonight Restaurant & Bar.

Paul Cassimus, the King of Pops, proved that he reigns frostily supreme when he opened a retail arm to his manufacturing space that includes a patio in Scott’s Addition. Ginger Juice Co. left the farmers market, and with the help of mobile pal Goatcado set up shop in the Village Shopping Center.

Sugar Baking Co. was a staple at farmers markets, too, and after a successful Kickstarter campaign it emerged as Whisk, a French-influenced bakery, in the old Globehopper Coffeehouse and Lounge space. And the granddaddy of mobile eats, Boka Truck, opened yet another location for its unexpected tacos, Boka Grill.

Greg Koch, co-founder of Stone Brewing, pours a brew into a City of Richmond beer glass. City, state and company officials recently met at Stone’s Fulton Hill brewery to toast its construction progress. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Greg Koch, co-founder of Stone Brewing, pours a brew into a City of Richmond beer glass. City, state and company officials recently met at Stone’s Fulton Hill brewery to toast its construction progress.

+6: Fulton Hill Gets a New Neighbor With Big Buzz

Gov. Terry McAuliffe says that he plans to visit every craft brewery in Virginia by the time he leaves office and that he’s “just the man to do it” — and you can “blame [his] Irish heritage,” he adds.

One of the few he can check off his list is Stone Brewery, where he continued to voice his enthusiasm in December. McAuliffe shared a drink with the mayor, state officials and Stone executives to mark construction progress on the brewery’s mammoth building. Its roof was removed to install large brew tanks.

Heady excitement is bubbling when it comes to the brewery, set to be completed in May. But hashing out plans for the project wasn’t all Stone and economic-development officials holding hands and singing. The city closed the deal with Stone in February after months of debate surrounding control over revenue from the project and the lease on an $8 million restaurant. The city fronted the cost of the restaurant and $23 million for the brewery, which Stone is scheduled to repay in a 25-year lease. The debates helped put a plan to complete the brewery by January behind schedule.

The project is lauded for its potential to bring economic development to the long stagnating Fulton Hill. In all, Stone expects to invest $74 million in the operation, which includes a packaging hall, retail and offices. The company expects to employ more than 288 people.

Stone also links into the city’s overall plan to revitalize the riverfront. The Sugar Pad — a concrete slab adjacent to the restaurant — is slated to become a beer garden, promenade, site for bicycle amenities for the Virginia Capital Trail, tidal pools and an event lawn. And the dilapidated intermediate terminal building will have new life as the Stone Brewing and World Bistro & Gardens restaurant.

Joe Morrissey and his fiancé, Myrna Warren, are expecting their second child in April and plan to get married shortly after. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Joe Morrissey and his fiancé, Myrna Warren, are expecting their second child in April and plan to get married shortly after.

0: Joe Morrissey Masters the Art of Foreshadowing

There was a time during one of his many news conferences when Joe Morrissey said he hoped to enjoy a quiet, private life with Myrna Warren and grow his family. Could it be that he was prepared to let his no-punches-pulled political career fade away?

Not exactly. In November, he announced through Style that he and Warren were expecting a second child, were moving to a North Side house and, yes, that he wouldn’t rule out a run for mayor of Richmond. And in December, he told the T-D that he’d officially proposed to Warren.

But it hasn’t been all sunshine for the couple. Their relationship drew headlines when Morrissey, now 58, was accused of having sex with Warren, who then went by the name Myrna Pride, when she was 17 and a receptionist at his law firm.

Both of them deny the charge, and last December Morrissey entered an Alford plea in the case, denying guilt but acknowledging evidence against him. He received a six-month sentence, reduced to a three-month work-release term, which he served while he held the 74th District seat in the House of Delegates. He won re-election from his jail cell in January.

Warren gave birth to their first child, Chase, in March, days before she turned 19. Their second child is expected in early April, and they’re planning a spring wedding at Morrissey’s farm in Varina.

As for the mayor’s race, it seems like Morrissey will keep the speculation going till he’s ready to make it official. He gave up on his campaign for the state Senate earlier this year, citing health issues when his diaphragm stopped functioning twice. Now he says he’s in perfect health and he’s “not ruling out a political run.”

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), “Venetian Tavern.” - VMFA
  • VMFA
  • John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), “Venetian Tavern.”

+4: Christmas comes early to the VMFA

While the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is still undergoing some growing pains since its big expansion — especially when it comes to the employee experience — it got some major good news when longtime patrons James W. and Frances G. McGlothlin announced a $200 million donation of American art.

The 73 works are drawn from “some of the most important artists in the 19th and 20th centuries,” including John Singer Sargent, George Wesley Bellows, and Mary Cassatt, artists that the McGlothlins of Bristol have been collecting for years. The associate curator of American painting and decorative art, Susan Rawles, said the gift has put the museum on a trajectory unique among art institutions when it comes to American art.

While the McGlothlins already had their own wing at the museum, they probably deserve that lifetime pass too, at the very least — plus unlimited coffee refills and the sweetest seat in the sculpture garden.

SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

+1: A Bus Debate Speeds Along

At first, a bus rapid transit line seemed like manna from transportation heaven. Funded in part by a generous federal grant, the $53.8 million project would cut 14 minutes off the average 35-minute time a regular bus takes on its 14-stop run from Willow Lawn to Rocketts Landing along Broad Street in the heart of Richmond.

Yet the plan quickly became riddled as various groups took aim. One, called the RVA Coalition for Smart Transit, complained that the Pulse, as the project is known, would hurt businesses by eliminating parking spots and would dissuade shoppers because of construction. Members of the group include the Fan District Association, the Museum District Commission and the Monument Avenue Preservation Society.

Another problem is the project’s target market. Critics say that it will favor well-heeled whites while doing little to help low-income minorities get to jobs or make shopping easier. Public housing projects such as Gilpin Court now in food deserts wouldn’t be directly served.

Proponents say that spur lines would link to the line eventually. But don’t expect the project to do much to make a dent in the city’s 25-percent poverty rate any time soon.

There could be much more public art across the city, such as “Skyrider,” a 2003 sculpture by John Newman hanging near Main Street Station. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • There could be much more public art across the city, such as “Skyrider,” a 2003 sculpture by John Newman hanging near Main Street Station.

+2: The City Takes Stock of Public Art

Whenever Richmond is sitting on a pile of money, you can bet national consultants aren’t far behind. In this case, because of the new city jail and an ordinance from 1997 that mandated 1 percent of capital projects be spent on public art, the city fund for public art has reached $3.2 million.

In July the city hired Ellyn Parker as a full-time public art coordinator and awarded a $150,000 contract to Gail Goldman and Gretchen Freeman (from San Diego and Phoenix, respectively) to develop a public art master plan. They’re still in the research phase, and last month held a public meeting that drew 60 people. So if you have a plan for public art that deserves money, now is your time to make a pitch.

Note: They’ve already set aside $300,000 for that new Maggie Walker statue. The next public art master plan meeting is Feb. 10 at ArtWorks in Manchester; there’s a community meeting on Jan. 12 at Storefront for Community Design about the Maggie Walker project; and Parker tells us there will be a meeting in late January on the public art for the RiverFront project with the artist. Get thee to a meeting.

Richard and Mildred Loving with their daughter Peggy in 1965, six years after the couple’s conviction and banishment from Virginia. - GREW VILLET/IMFPIX
  • Grew Villet/IMFPIX
  • Richard and Mildred Loving with their daughter Peggy in 1965, six years after the couple’s conviction and banishment from Virginia.

+1: A Love Story is Caught On Camera

What’s not to love about a little love story titled “Loving”? As if you couldn’t tell from the lines of hopeful movie extras that wrapped around the block in Manchester, people are stoked about this one.

The latest locally filmed biopic to capture Richmond’s imagination, “Loving” is about the civil rights case of Mildred and Richard Loving, an interracial couple sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958. The British-American drama is being directed by a hot Hollywood talent, Jeff Nichols (“Mud,” “Shotgun Stories”), and features actors Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga as the couple, plus one of our favorites, iron-faced Michael Shannon as a Time photographer.

So if you’ve been following: That’s a powerful and (sadly, still) timely love story, plus major film talents, plus principal photography in Richmond? Something tells us this has Oscar gold dribbling from its pores. If you got your mug in this thing, good on ya.

+3: Art 180 Gets the Robins Touch

Sometimes the people who need art the most are those standing at a crossroads — including incarcerated youth whom society might see on paths to lives behind bars. That’s the idea behind local nonprofit Art 180’s Youth Self-Advocacy Through Art, developed with the Legal Aid Justice Center.

The program not only builds confidence and skills through art classes in jails, but also seeks reform through a campaign to encourage young people to advocate for themselves before policymakers. The Robins Foundation rewarded the program with its $500,000 grant, which will help launch the collaboration, keep it going and shed more light on the widespread problem of expensive and outdated punitive systems — which studies have shown to be less successful when it comes to young people. Teach them art instead and they might surprise you.

Longtime Martin chief John B. Adams Jr. is stepping down from his post Dec. 31. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Longtime Martin chief John B. Adams Jr. is stepping down from his post Dec. 31.

+4: The Martin Agency Marks a Milestone

One of Richmond’s hottest companies, the Martin Agency, marked its 50th anniversary in 2015. The Shockoe Slip advertising giant has become a creative treasure, spinning off local business and churning out nationally recognized work.

And the accolades racked up alongside the 50th celebration. Shoot magazine recently named it agency of the year, and the trade journal Adweek lauded Martin as producing the best ad spots in 2015 — the Unskippable series for longtime client Geico, which also won the 2015 Cannes Lions Film Grand Prix.

True to form, the agency keeps the viewer in mind. The videos, positioned to run before you see a video online, are so brief that you get the message before you can hit the skip button.

Savvy work for Geico has been a trademark since the mid-’90s. Creatives took a chapter from HBO’s “The Sopranos,” intricately weaving multiple stories for hawking insurance like a Tolstoy novel. There’s the gecko, the cavemen, the camel. And that’s not to mention work for such clients as Oreo, Wal-Mart and the JFK Library.

The agency has undergone a round of leadership change. Joe Alexander was named Martin’s chief creative officer in 2012. And John B. Adams Jr., who’s led Martin since 1992, is stepping down as chairman Dec. 31. In 2012 he left the chief executive post, which was taken over by Matt Williams, and will stay busy teaching at the University of Richmond and the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter.

Next on the Martin Agency’s list is expanding its global presence by opening regional offices on several continents.

+6: A Chinese Company Stakes Out a Green, Multibillion-Dollar Future Along the James

Richmond is all abuzz about the new Stone Brewing Co. plant going up near Rocketts Landing. But if you want to see something far more powerful when it comes to potential local income, paddle your kayak a few miles farther downstream.

There, Shandong Tranlin, a Chinese company, has broken ground for a $2 billion paper mill that will employ 2,000 local workers. When finished by about 2020, it will use green methods that should diminish the pollution, such as ultra-toxic dioxin, that’s usually associated with stinky pulp mills.

There won’t be any foul-smelling air because the plant will use leftover farm waste instead of trees. It won’t use bleach that typically puts dioxins in the water. And it will recycle much of its waste and turn leftover corn and wheat stalks into a “black liquor” that can be used as highly concentrated fertilizer by the farmers who supply it with raw materials.

Believed to be the largest single Chinese investment into a green-field plant in the country, the plant is expected to enhance the Richmond area’s logistics base, which includes the revived Port of Richmond and various trucking and rail facilities from the city south along Interstate 95 to Fort Lee. It seems like a win-win-win.

Darlene Crutchfield speaks during a vigil following the fatal shooting of her son William “Ducey” Crutchfield in Mosby Court, with his father at center. Crutchfield was one of six homicide victims in the public housing complex this year. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Darlene Crutchfield speaks during a vigil following the fatal shooting of her son William “Ducey” Crutchfield in Mosby Court, with his father at center. Crutchfield was one of six homicide victims in the public housing complex this year.

-9: Mosby Court Braces Itself Against Tragedy

Mosby Court became the site of the year’s most homicides in a Richmond public housing project. The violence hit its zenith with the fatal shooting of Jawaun L. Hargrove, 33, and Anthony D. Addison, 21, on Sept. 9. Nearly a month later, the death of William E. Crutchfield brought the body count in the East End neighborhood to six, a stark change from 2014. Capt. Roger Russell of the Richmond Police Department compared it to 2014, when there was one homicide in Mosby, that of Zyemontae Redd, 15, who was shot.

The uptick in violence resonated with Mosby residents, and Police Chief Alfred Durham said they stepped forward with more crime-solving tips. Durham also said the department was stressing community policing, a model it adopted 10 years ago to build relationships between officers and residents before crime happens. Grass-roots efforts to get Mosby back on track have been spearheaded by the nonprofit Kinfolks Community, Virginia Commonwealth University, local activists and the residents themselves.

Of course gun violence and homicides weren’t limited to Mosby, and in the weekend before Christmas there were five shootings in the city, leaving three people dead. At a news conference last week, Durham said he was considering whether to bring back Project Exile, a federal program started here in 1997 to crack down on gun-related homicides.

The message was clear: Enough is enough.

Mayor Dwight C. Jones
  • Mayor Dwight C. Jones

-8: City Hall Melts Down

Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones has been basking in the afterglow of the grand UCI Road World Championships bike races. But inside City Hall, the administration has been facing a dirty and not-so-hidden secret: Its finances have been an absolute mess since at least 2011, mucking up operations and planning.

Since then, its financial leadership has gone through three complete turnovers, with some officials lasting all of six weeks before being let go. The revolving door worked so briskly that City Hall became the butt of jokes among other municipal financial officials. In a highly rare event, Cherry Bekaert, a respected local accounting firm, fired its client, saying Richmond was too dysfunctional to work.

The core of the problem is the botched installation of RAPIDS, the city’s main database. By contrast, Henrico County installed something similar with little disruption. City officials blame the database and the incompetent former employees they hired for several highly tardy financial reports due to the state.

A new team led by Chief Administrative Officer Selena Cuffee-Glenn, tapped for the job in April, promises a turnaround, but her team still missed its Nov. 30 deadline for the latest state reports. The dilemma shows the weaknesses of doing away with a strong city manager form of government as Richmond did in 2004. Maybe we don’t need a figurehead after all?

-5: The Children’s Hospital Standoff Ends With the Status Quo

No one’s coming out a winner in the bitter struggle over plans for an independent standalone, regional children’s hospital.

After moving in fits and starts for several years, the idea came to a halt in May when the VCU Medical Center and Bon Secours Richmond Health System pulled out of the plan, saying it was too costly and outdated.

Backers held out hope for a solution, including a group of pediatricians, billionaire businessman William Goodwin and Katherine Busser, chief executive of the Virginia Children’s Hospital Alliance. They considered part of the North Boulevard site around The Diamond as a potential home. But by year’s end, Busser’s group had suspended activities, making prospects even dimmer.

Proponents of a children’s hospital say that advanced pediatric care is lacking locally, and parents are forced to travel outside the area for the most serious kinds of treatment. They believe an independent hospital would become a regional medical destination, and that Virginia Commonwealth University quashed the effort because it wanted to control the new facility.

Executives with VCU say the hospital system can treat many children’s illnesses and that they’ve invested heavily in outpatient and preventive care, which is where pediatric care is heading. They also blame changes in the economy and the health care system as obstacles.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe congratulates Hardywood co-owners Eric McKay and Patrick Murtaugh in July at the announcement of the company’s plans to open a new brewing complex in Goochland. - PIERRE COURTOIS/LIBRARY OF VIRGINIA
  • Pierre Courtois/Library of Virginia
  • Gov. Terry McAuliffe congratulates Hardywood co-owners Eric McKay and Patrick Murtaugh in July at the announcement of the company’s plans to open a new brewing complex in Goochland.

+4: Richmond Can't Stop the Suds

Richmond hasn’t hit high tide yet with the rising success of its breweries. Two of them opened in the last year, Garden Grove and 7 Hills Brewing Co., and at least four more were announced for 2016.

The kegs will overflow when Hardywood Park Craft Brewery builds a second production compound in Goochland County that will include an amphitheater, taproom, beer garden and of course, the space and equipment to make beer. It’ll cost a whopping $28 million that the founders raised privately, plus a little more that the state and county will kick in to get the project off the ground.

Area breweries also grabbed the spotlight when four — the Answer Brewpub, Hardywood, Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery and Midnight Brewing — snagged gold at the Virginia Craft Brewer’s Cup. The Answer’s IPA entry, Larceny, took home the best in show award. Richmond is looking so attractive to the beer crowd these days that besides big boy Stone Brewing Co., Charlottesville’s Three Notch’d Brewing Co. plans to open its third spot in Scott’s Addition in the spring.

+2: A Race For State Senate Cranks Up the Drama

An unusually heated race for the Virginia Senate in the polyglot 10th District may predict the shape of things to come.

Republican Glen Sturtevant narrowly beat Democrat Dan Gecker in Virginia’s second-most expensive race ever. Together the pair spent $4.8 million. That’s huge for the Richmond area but still didn’t top the $5.8 million that was poured into the 29th District Senate race in the Manassas area.

The 10 District fight was crucial because had Gecker won, the power balance in the Senate would have shifted to the Democrats. But what made the race even more exceptional was the level to which outside money came into play in what normally are fairly docile affairs.

Along with Republican political action committees, the National Rifle Association helped Sturtevant, a lawyer and Richmond School Board member.

Gecker, a developer on the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors, ran a money-machine campaign with indirect help from New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who bankrolls progressive political agendas. In this case, he helped arrange for $700,000 in gun-control television ads in the 10th.

But the ploy seemed to backfire. The district runs from blue parts of central Richmond to purple zones on the Chesterfield County line and on west into red Powhatan. Voters living in the more western parts didn’t buy the Bloomberg intrusion and gave Sturtevant the winning edge.

The race is a political turning point showing how once-sedate state races soon may be driven by big bucks and technology.

Even McKeel - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Even McKeel

+3: Richmond Voices Get the Celebrity Treatment

They didn’t make it to the end, but they made their mark. Richmond singers got far on reality singing competitions, with Rayvon Owen sliding into “American Idol” just in time, before the series rides off into the sunset next year.

Owen got to the part most finalists crave — when cameras follow him for a hometown visit. He traveled the country for the “American Idol” tour and has been back to town for performances, including at the UCI Road World Championships and serving as grand marshal of the Dominion Christmas Parade.

And Evan McKeel of Bon Air, well-known from his singing at the West End Assembly of God, was mentored by fellow Virginian, star singer and producer Pharrell Williams on NBC’s “The Voice.” He’s also been back, singing his heart out for home basketball games at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond.

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