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When Style suggested tearing down City Hall, who knew there'd already been talk?

Street Talk

Could City Hall Come Tumbling Down?
Hard Times Back on the Streets
Channel 6 Producer Makes Bogus 911 Call
State Workers Bugged by Phones
Diverter Could Stop Foot Traffic, Too
CD Set Inspires Musician to Strum AgainCould City Hall Come Tumbling Down?

When Style Weekly writer Edwin Slipek Jr. suggested tearing down City Hall last week (Cover Story, Nov. 16) as one of 21 things that could improve Downtown Richmond, who would have guessed the bombshell idea was already being discussed?

A caller to Style who'd had a conversation with Mayor Tim Kaine after the article ran reportedly joked to the mayor that he should start looking for new office space to which Kaine reportedly replied that there has been talk of finding new digs for city workers. Kaine couldn't be reached for comment by Style's press time.

No doubt city employees would welcome the wrecking ball if it meant crisp new offices with all the amenities — or at least an exterior that wasn't held together by plastic straps and metal padlocks.

City Architect Don Charles confirms that though nothing is in the current budget for renovation or demolition of City Hall there have been discussions about making provisions in a future budget for one of those two scenarios — provided the city can find a buyer for the building.

It is estimated that necessary renovations to the building could cost $30-40 million dollars. But to build another city municipal building elsewhere — as Slipek suggests — would cost at least $80 million.

Charles says that in a perfect world, City Hall would have a buyer — like MCV/VCU, as Slipek suggested in his article — who could afford to tear down the building and build a new one in its place, utilizing a prime piece of urban property. "As it stands now," concedes Charles, "City Hall has limited reuse." But until there's a buyer, Charles says, any talk of swinging the wrecking ball is unlikely. But Charles, whose office is in the bedraggled building, seems to think City Hall can hang in there a little longer: "It's in amazingly good condition when you consider it's had very little maintenance in three decades."

— Brandon Walters

Hard Times Back on the Streets

After a three month hiatus, Hard Times, the city paper composed and distributed by the city's homeless, is back on the presses.

Complete with a new look, the paper now has something extra that vendors hope will increase its requested $1 donation pick-up rate: pictures and better content. What's more, for the 15 or so regular vendors who rely on the donations they receive from the paper, unlimited Hard Times are no longer free for the taking.

In September, St. Paul's Episcopal Church took over managing the paper's distribution. Late last spring, there were complaints of vendors being pushy, intoxicated or encroaching on other vendor's territory — vendors are not supposed to be within two blocks of one another.

But with St. Paul's overseeing distribution, The Virginia Coalition for the Homeless, the group that sponsors Hard Times, hopes to forge a new reputation for the paper and its vendors.

"We're not printing as many," says Mary Atterholt, outreach coordinator at St. Paul's. The second issue of the new Hard Times hit the streets last week.

For vendors, who pick the papers up on Tuesdays from St. Paul's, this means the first 100 papers are free. But after that, they're 10 cents per copy. "They used to get papers twice, now they can only get them once. They have to plan ahead." This, hopes Atterholt, will help the vendors know they're working toward something that is more than a handout. And so far it's worked. Already vendors are returning to the church on Tuesdays to purchase anywhere from 10 to 100 additional papers.

Also, Atterholt says, the new Hard Times, printed monthly in Ashland with an average of eight pages, will be a better newspaper. "It will be investigating homeless issues regionally and nationally," she says. And the VCU School of Journalism has jumped on board to help edit the paper. The content still comes from the homeless who chose to submit articles, poetry and personal essays.

These combined changes, says Atterholt, makes the paper better for the city and more importantly, better for the vendors. "This is not meant for these people to be stuck selling Hard Times for the rest of their lives."

- B.W.

Channel 6 Producer Makes Bogus 911 Call

Punctuating a bizarre and tumultuous media tour of Henrico County's new emergency communications center, WTVR Channel 6 Executive Producer Jack Pagano secretly dialed 911 from inside the center and then hung up, authorities say.

"He wanted to see what would happen," says Henrico Police Dep. Chief Doug Middleton. He adds that while "inappropriate," the bogus call during the Nov. 9 media tour was "probably not" illegal, though it did upset some 911 staff and the dozen or so police officials and media representatives on the tour.

Middleton says Channel 6 News Director Rob Cizek called within a few days of the incident and apologized for Pagano's behavior, which sources say included complaining loudly to Chief Henry Stanley about the police department's cooperation with Channel 6 and arguing heatedly with reporters who were upset by his behavior.

"I think I told him to shut the hell up," says one of the reporters. "I yelled at him and he shut up. It was unreal. ... Can you imagine going to a police open house and making a bogus 911 call? It's insane."

Middleton says he and Cizek have talked things out and there are no bad feelings on either side: "I think a lot of it was he was just new." Pagano joined Channel 6 in September from a Miami CBS affiliate.

Pagano and Cizek did not return calls seeking comment. Middleton, who sounds amused by the incident, says he doesn't expect to get an apology from Pagano himself: "I haven't heard from him since and I doubt that I will."

— Rob Morano

State Workers Bugged by Phones

If he were alive, even William S. Burroughs would get the heebie-jeebies if a cockroach crept through the earpiece of a phone and plunged deep into his eardrum.

It hasn't happened yet, but state workers with the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services in the Jefferson Building on Capitol Square aren't taking any chances.

After reports from three or four state employees that their phones were infested with cockroaches, Paula Wagner, of the department's information and technology services, sent an all-staff e-mail last week warning workers: "Please prepare yourself for whatever you may find." It even suggested workers arm themselves with Raid — country fresh scent — and remove the plastic stand from their phone.

No one seems to know how the dreaded insects infiltrated the government phone system.

At least one state employee has kept her sense of humor about the situation:

"OK, our phones are bugged," quips Martha Meade, director of public relations for the department. "But we're taking care of it."

— B.W.

Diverter Could Stop Foot Traffic, Too

It was Kendra Feather's first time speaking out.

The 29-year-old owner of Ipanema Cafe on West Grace Street had been tapped by fellow members of the Midtown West Association to speak on its behalf at a recent City Council meeting about what now is a hot topic of debate: the West Grace Street diverter.

Feather's group opposed it, fearing less traffic would mean less business to its struggling area near VCU. And the West Grace Street Association, a residential group which supported the initiative to ease traffic in its own neighborhood, won the go-ahead from City Council for a three to four-month diverter trial run.

But now, the diverter isn't the only bee in Feather's bonnet.

After speaking out against the diverter plan at a City Council meeting last month, Feather says she was confronted by an upset West Grace Street Association member who claimed she no longer would patronize Feather's restaurant. Feather says others expressed the same thing. "They scared me. It was six on one and they were pissed."

Laura Lee Garrett, chairperson for the West Grace Street Association's traffic calming committee — the arm responsible for bringing the diverter to City Council — says she was around when the confrontation took place. Garrett says it's a case of emotions running too high. "We don't want [the diverter] to adversely affect any neighborhood," Garrett says. "If it causes real problems we'll take it back to the drawing table."

As a business owner who relies on neighborhood business, Feather says she's learned it's not good to rock the boat. "I'm sorry if I offended them," tells Feather. "But what if I never cared about what happens beyond my front door?"

— B.W.

CD Set Inspires Musician to Strum Again

A year ago Alfred Scott never imagined he'd spend the next 11 months rifling through thousands of hours of recorded folk music. It might have been easier to scout through the archives of Arlo Guthrie.

The process and the resulting eight CD box set "The Peter Stanley Collection: A Lifetime of Music," have been a labor of love for Scott and his family.

Two-and-a-half years ago, Scott's brother-in-law and friend, Peter Stanley, a renown folk musician now in his 60s who's played with legends Judy Collins and Joan Baez, nearly put his banjo and guitar down for good when symptoms of Parkinson's disease slowed his skilled hands to a halt.

The Orange County musician is no stranger to a good challenge. He quit his job as a stock broker, he braved the Alaskan tundra with his wife and son even building their own cabin, he climbed Mt. McKinley and, most importantly, he stopped drinking.

But the Parkinson's was a battle Stanley seemed destined to lose. Until Scott took on a project of monstrous proportions: preserving 40 years of his brother-in-law's music.

"A man gets his self worth out of what he produces," says Scott, a software developer and president of Sequoia Aircraft Corporation. And for Stanley, the timing of this project meant the difference between living and dying. Today Stanley's picking again.

Scott is producing 300 of the eight-volume collection that cost $96 apiece. Already he has orders for 50. "I knew he had a following in Virginia," says Scott. But the challenge, he says, is to sell Peter Stanley to the world — online. "If we just have fun and enjoy the music, that's enough," confides Scott. Most of all, he's glad his friend is back. "He almost wakes playing the guitar now."

— B.W.

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