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VCU Students Pitch Hispanic Marketplace Along Hull Street

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Urban planning students at Virginia Commonwealth University may have found the key to reviving one of Richmond's long-lost commercial corridors: a Hispanic marketplace.
Fifty years after its heyday, Hull St
reet Road is now littered with bald patches, dead spaces and shuttered storefronts as it straddles the line between Richmond and Chesterfield County. The VCU students suggest catering to the area's fastest-growing demographic with a themed marketplace — readily identifiable with genre architecture — as a focal point for nearby businesses that cater to Hispanic consumers.

The U.S. Census estimates the city's Hispanic population has nearly doubled from 5,000 in 2000 to 9,000 in 2007 — and many observers suspect those numbers are low. Meanwhile businesses specializing in ethnic foods, offering Spanish-speaking services or immigration law have popped up to capture the rapidly growing market.

While most have sprung up along Jefferson Davis Highway, several have also taken root on the roughly three-mile stretch the students studied, between Warwick Road in the city and Turner Road in Chesterfield.

The VCU students, led by urban planning professor John Accordino, envision a ring of buildings surrounding an open plaza, which would be on the city side of Hull Street just west of the Pine Brook Village apartment complex.

Launching a farmer's market on the site to draw traffic and familiarize people with the area was a preliminary step the students found had worked in similar commercial corridors in other states.

Along with the Hispanic market, students recommend upgrades to the roads and sidewalks and seeding other thematic clusters, such as a family entertainment node.

The class took on the project at the urging of Richmond's deputy planning director, Brooke Hardin, and Tom Jacobson, Chesterfield's director of community revitalization. Jacobson says that within the next two months he hopes to take the classes' suggestions to merchants and neighborhood associations in the area.

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