When I say ‘from Richmond,’ I actually mean, ‘from Richmond.’ I do not mean that I have been here for the last 20 years. I do not mean that I went to school here and stayed or even that my parents came here when I was 5 and have been here ever since.
I am from Richmond. MCV born, Chesterfield County raised and University of Richmond and VCU educated. I think that is pretty Richmond.
I wrote this article back in 2009 (or thereabouts) after having one too many Realtors tell me that they didn’t think their client would like a project we represented without even visiting it. What they were really telling me was that THEY didn’t want come down to see it because THEY didn’t know what was going on, not their clients…
Now, I am not looking for an award or for a lifetime parking pass on West Avenue…although that would be nice. But I do think my status allows me to critique the communications between the various groups that call Richmond home.
It used to be that Richmond was divided into two camps…those from Richmond and those not from Richmond. Being from Virginia got you some credibility in Richmond, as long you were not from Northern VA (no offense Scott Garnett!), but being a native was the best.
This is not so much the case anymore. ‘Where are you from?’ has been trumped by ‘when did you get here?’ If anything, in the eyes of the new Richmonder, being old school means missing out. It means not understanding what has truly happened on the ‘other side of Broad’ and on the ‘other side of Belvidere.’ It also means still having that attitude that anything east of the Fan is destined to fail.
Sometime around the middle 1990’s, VCU began to expand. In 1990, VCU named Eugene P. Trani as its 4th president. By the middle 1990’s the VCU that was, existed no more. Adding buildings and expanding the footprint of VCU into Oregon Hill, Carver and across Belvidere into Monroe Ward, Trani quickly (and I mean quickly) redeveloped the image, student body, physical presence and overall national profile of the university. By the end of his tenure in 2008, $1.2 billion of infrastructure improvements had been made. $100M had been spent along Broad Street. The Brand Center, a new business school to replace the old, an entirely new engineering school, The Siegel Center and new overhaul and expansion of the gym on Cary Street along with many new parking decks were all part of the expansion. Its effect was far reaching and is not done.
For those who attended VCU at both the graduate and undergraduate level anytime in the middle to late 1990’s, there is an understanding about VCU and Downtown Richmond not shared by those who remember the way it used to be. Downtown Richmond for much of my lifetime was defined by the failures of Thalhimer’s and Miller and Rhodes shopping and the colossal failure of 6th Street Marketplace. They remember the blight of Grace Street and the crime of many of Richmond’s neighborhoods. Mention Manchester to an old Richmonder and watch them wince.
As we enter the spring of 2010, the report card for Downtown reads as follows: The Downtown Loft Tour will be on its 3rd session this spring showcasing lofts and flats the like of which Richmond had not seen until maybe 5 years ago. Last year’s tour all but sold out. There is now an all time high of people actually living in what is considered ‘Downtown.’ Shockoe Bottom and Manchester will have over 1000 new apartments coming on line in the next 24 months. There is talk of high speed rail. The National Theater is here to stay and booking acts that skipped Richmond for 20 years. Center Stage is doing pretty well, too. The First Friday Art Walk set a record for attendance last year.
The emerging market in Downtown Richmond is no longer emerging and it is being driven by the new face of Richmond. I hope old Richmond comes along for the ride. It is fun down here.