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Station Urges Shelter Support; Finishing Touches Remain for River Road II; County Secures Public Buildings; VCU Buys More of Grace Street

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Station Urges Shelter Support

Last week, Richmonders who tuned in to WRIC TV-8 may have heard the first editorial station manager Tom Best says he's been compelled to write in his seven years at the station.

Best's speech was about the proposed partnership between the Richmond SPCA and Richmond Animal Control, and why the news station fervently backs it.

Best says the station has a history of commitment to animal rights issues. The partnership between the two groups, he says, "is wholly to the benefit of everyone involved."

"We were concerned that a lot of the opposition was misstating the purpose of the agreement. We wanted to get on the record as clearly and quickly as possible," Best says.

What' s on the table is this: a proposed memorandum of agreement between the Richmond City Shelter and the Richmond SPCA that aims to spell out joint goals, define success of programs and designate roles that the two groups will have in the future. It comes in response to the SPCA's change in philosophy — called the Campaign for a Compassionate Solution — and its plan to phase out euthanasia at its new $10 million facility.

Opponents of the proposed partnership include many of the smaller humane shelters and pounds, which say they have deliberately been excluded from discussions. The agreement, they say, would mean the SPCA is in effect putting the burden of euthanizing on other shelters. Additionally, critics say, the SPCA's zealous fund raising and links to the city are vacuuming the pockets of the community that supports animal welfare without helping the neediest animals.

Channel 8's Best says opponents have it all wrong and are just worried that "if the pet problem is solved, there may not be a reason for them to be around."

City Council is expected to vote on the memorandum July 9, but insiders say that will likely be postponed for several weeks.

Meanwhile, Best is so committed to seeing the partnership between the city and the SPCA proceed that he sent letters to all City Council members. He wrote, "We firmly believe that you see the wisdom of this plan and …will vote to support it on July 9. WRIC will televise the vote live, and we will not hesitate to commend you editorially afterward for making Richmond a safer, happier place for its pet population."

That upset some opponents of the plan. "We understand sponsorship," says Jennie Knapp with Save Our Shelters. "But for a news station that's supposed to present both sides of an issue, to send that letter to Council members is an incredible piece of pressure."

Furthermore, she says, "Channel 8 never interviewed the opposition."

Best says the station will continue to push for the measure. It's that important to the city, he maintains.

Best has gone so far as to post a sign-up sheet for WRIC employees — excluding newsroom workers — encouraging them to turn out for the Council meeting and to support the measure.

Those who do attend the meeting will get free pizza before and be paid for their time, Best says. "If they're willing to come out, they'll get compensatory time off," he explains. "I've done it many times before in different circumstances."

Brandon Walters

Finishing Touches Remain for River Road II

Since the groundbreaking earlier this year at River Road II, a much-talked-about shopping center being built near the north end of the Huguenot Bridge, people have speculated about what shops will occupy the space.

Until now, the site has been a lot lighted up once a year at Christmas — a pricey place to purchase a tree. Now brick-and-iron flourishes mirror those of River Road Shopping Center, its predecessor across the street.

Curiosity, it seems, is killing some regular onlookers.

At Coplon's, a saleswoman says she can't wait for Starbucks to open. Another worker says she's heard that Pottery Barn will be the anchor. Inside Talbots, employees chatter about the new Talbots Kids store across the street, while assuring customers that the ladies' apparel store isn't going anywhere. One worker is sure that Crate and Barrel, not Pottery Barn, is earmarked to anchor.

Meanwhile, construction workers fighting the heat outside appear not to care. "They're bringing in a whole lot of big franchises," one man says, "and that's all we know."

Thankfully, it's not all Ed Lacy knows.

The new 30,000-square-foot retail haven has eight of its nine spaces rented out. The list: Acorn, a dress shop; Chico's, another dress shop; Pendleton, a clothier (slightly different from a dress shop); Richey, a specialty shoe store from Charlottesville; Twist and Turns, a home-furnishings store (so much for Pottery Barn or Crate and Barrel); Starbucks, the ubiquitous coffee shop; and Lilly Pulitzer, a dress shop that is trying to make preppy chic again.

Lacy is a property manager and developer with Phillips-Hall Inc. Together with his partner, Court Spotts of Spotts & Carneal, the two purchased the land more than two years ago. Since then they've worked nonstop, says Lacy, with designers and contractors and potential tenants.

He's eager to have the project completed. "Most of what we do is rehab," he says. "It's been a pain, but we're close to finishing. We hope the two shopping centers will complement each other." — B.W.

County Secures Public Buildings

They won't be quite like Fort Knox, but by next year Chesterfield County hopes to have all of its public buildings secure.

Since late June, two Chesterfield County Police officers have been inspecting buildings and their surrounding areas and recommending new safety measures and policies to each department. In March, county administrators adopted a workplace-violence policy that requires, among other things, a security assessment for every department in the county.

The policy grew out of incidents of domestic disputes between county employees and their spouses, says Mike Yeatts, the county's senior employee-relations analyst for human resources. "We haven't had any major incidents, but we've had some instances where [threatening] spouses came into the office," Yeatts says. "That's one of the reasons we're being proactive."

Some of the changes include chimes to alert employees when someone comes into the building; concave mirrors in libraries so librarians can look between tall bookshelves; and better lighting in parking lots, says Jennifer Bryant, a specialist in preventing crime through environmental design for the Chesterfield police.

Departments pay for their own modifications. Yeatts says the new policy focuses more on educating employees and getting departments to set up their own security procedures. These procedures include better oversight over who gets keys, keeping entrances closed and locked during closed hours, getting nametags for employees and learning what to do in crisis situations, Bryant says.

So far, 13 of the counties' 45 departments have been assessed. All assessments are scheduled to be completed by next July. Each department gets the final say on what does and doesn't need to be done in security procedures, Yeatts says.

Although there has been very small opposition, the majority of the departments have found the assessments helpful, Bryant says. The only place to make physical changes is the Department of Extension Services building, where some shrubs have been shortened and shaved, and a security alarm system has been installed, Bryant says. — Jacob Parcell

VCU Buys More of Grace Street

Virginia Commonwealth University's real-estate arm has reached again into the Grace Street corridor, buying a group of four retail shops known as College Station.

"It's an investment property," says Paul P. Jez, VCU's treasurer and assistant vice president for business services.

VCU's Real Estate Foundation, which closed on the sale last week, plans to continue leasing to the current tenants: Carla's Kitchen, Tokyo Japanese Restaurant and African Bazaar. A former coin laundry that is now vacant is up for lease.

The area works well for retail, Jez says. "We think that it's best served for that, and it's fantastic that the space has parking," he says.

VCU has made itself quite visible on Grace Street, once referred to as the "Combat Zone." In recent years, it has purchased a notorious bar and the Lee Art Theater, a former porn theater. They turned the bar into a VCU police station and the theater into a performing space for dance. Last week, VCU agreed to purchase the Capitol Medical Center hospital at 701 W. Grace St., planning to turn it into a dorm.

At College Station, a shopping center employee who asks to not be identified says she feels positive about the sale — and VCU's role in owning land in the area. "We knew that VCU was going to buy all this," she says.

The foundation purchased College Station, near Harrison Street, for $500,000. The property was assessed at $375,000, according to city records. — Jason Roop

Richmonder "Lost" in Reality TV

Until last year, local photographer Bunt Young didn't know much about disturbing the dead. Then Fox News hired him to join a team of six photographers to shoot "Opening the Tombs of the Golden Mummies."

This year, Young will learn something more about reality TV. Last Thursday, Young, 37, embarked on another seven-day adventure — this time as a cameraman for NBC's upcoming "Lost!"

"Lost" is based on the Boulder Outdoor Survivor School, which takes 10 to 12 people and drops them in the wilderness where they must learn to live like pioneers. The show will follow pairs of strangers who are flown to an undisclosed location with few essentials and a small amount of cash. The contestants must find their way home however they can. The first team to return to the starting point wins the prize.

"I've been running around getting prepared," Young told Style the night before he left Richmond.

That included a trip to Blue Ridge Mountain Sports for a pair of hiking boots.

After all, he's got to go wherever the action is. And that means sticking close to the show's competitors as they wrangle through a week spent somewhere in the mountains of Utah.

For his "Golden Mummies" gig, he got to travel to Egypt and learn a thing or two about archeology. Plus he met "20/20's" Hugh Downs and actor Bill Pullman, hosts of the program. But most of all, the show that sent Young on a seven-day journey was touted as one of the most must-see moments in live TV. The project's chief archaeologist even called the tombs' opening one of the most important discoveries in Egypt's history.

Young has few details about his foray into post-"Survivor" reality programming. "I can't really tell you anything until I get back," he says. "I'm sure it's going to be quite an adventure." — B.W.

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