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Unprompted: Richmond Is Slowly Growing Out of Its Bad Ideas Phase



It’s a good idea to reject bad ideas. The city of Richmond has had a few through the years. We’ll never know what might have happened if a baseball park had been built in Shockoe Bottom, but it was probably a bad idea and therefore Richmond may have won. We lamented the loss of the Richmond Braves and feared the loss of the Flying Squirrels.

The Braves ended up locating in Gwinnett County, Georgia, at a cost many times the estimate. Gwinnett bought into the bad idea that Richmond rejected, although Richmond probably didn’t know it was doing so at the time. Locals in Georgia wish the Braves had stayed in Richmond. The investment has been a disaster, but at least it wasn’t our disaster.

Now Richmond is on the cusp of actually building a new stadium where it should be, on the Boulevard. Near the Bow Tie Movieland — a business that works, probably because government was uninvolved.

It remains to be seen if a new stadium is worth the cost. Or who bears the cost. Cities that invest in big sports venues usually lose. The owners of those sports teams laugh all the way to the bank.

I must mention the Redskins Training Camp here. A city that can’t patch its potholes or mow its grass is sending money to one of the wealthiest sports franchises in the world and getting very little for it. Hail to the Redskins.

Where did this mania begin? Well, the mother of silly ideas was the 6th Street Marketplace, an idea so big and bad it cost millions of dollars. We had to tear it down so we could forget it. More money spent to get rid of it. The Marketplace was right up there with the brainstorm many years ago to make Richmond the Capital of the Confederacy.

In 2008, Gov. Mark Warner went to bat to put the NASCAR Hall of Fame here — a really bad idea awash in glorious promises. Warner was very excited. Fortunately for Richmond, Charlotte won the hall and has paid dearly for what was a monumental bad idea. I’m not sure whether it’s a dying NASCAR or something else, but they aren’t adding seats at Richmond International Raceway — they’re removing them.

Some things work. There are good ideas that have served the city well. Most of them aren’t the brainchildren of overeager politicians, but of developers coming up with something people actually want.

What works? Carytown works. Brown’s Island works. VCU Medical Center works. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts works. Shockoe Bottom works. Many renovated buildings now house a slew of new residents who are moving into the city.

An abandoned public school, Chimborazo Elementary in Church Hill, is now home to upscale condos. If you build it, they will come. It’s a matter of what you build that matters. Let’s not mention the Canal Walk here. It doesn’t cost a lot or hurt anything, but it’s no San Antonio. It’s there, though no one pays much attention to it.

Oh yes, that bicycle race. It was a neat event but we’ll never know whether it was a good idea. The main gauge of that seems to be how many people attended, but again, we will never know. Some race attendees were counted several times. Not unlike an election in Chicago or West Virginia where dead people go to the polls, in some cases repeatedly.

Richmond is a wonderful city, big enough to offer most anything one wants, small enough to actually enjoy it. But like all cities it has leaders from time to time who aren’t sure what they’re doing. They rely on the advice of consultants who for the most part are trying to get us to do something so they can make money.

Fortunately, it’s better than it used to be. We’re in a better position to make better decisions now. It wasn’t that long ago that City Council largely was an assortment of felons and general no-gooders. Some of them went to prison. Most of council now is fairly smart and able to keep a lid on bad ideas. Mayor Dwight Jones is learning that the hard way.

Let’s take a deep breath and then consider very carefully our next venture, with a sharp eye on what we’ve already tried. In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to fix the potholes. We could ask the Redskins for help. S

Gene Cox is an author and inventor who recently retired from a 35-year career as a television anchor in Richmond. Connect with him at letters@styleweekly.com, or on Twitter at genecoxrva.


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