Big nightclub to open near VCU … 

Street Talk

Music Hall Set For Near VCULewis Ginter Loses RoseKaine, Johnson Debate Fate of Lombardy StreetSwimming Center Sought for AreaCity Clean-Up Stalls On Increased Trash

Music Hall Set For Near VCU

Aclub owner hopes to attract more big-name bands to Richmond by opening a music hall near VCU early next year.

Sam Miliotis, whose family owns Razzle's on Midlothian Turnpike, says he will lease the former Biograph Theater at 814 W. Grace St. and convert it into a 700-person capacity nightclub.

The venue, which Miliotis plans to call Buzz, will feature alternative rock and dance music.

While Richmond has a reputation for low concert attendance, Miliotis says he is satisfied with the club's viability after consulting with booking agents. "We didn't make this move until they came and saw the building and we got their support and commitment for this club."

Mike Jones, a former Cellar Door Entertainment executive who now books bands as a consultant to Cellar Door's new parent company, says he checked out the club. "I thought the location was terrific," he says, referring to the nearby student market. "I would say it would be comparable to Trax in Charlottesville."

A coffee shop will be built in front of the nightclub to entice the college crowd during the day, Miliotis says.

Owner David Wyatt of Pro-Construction Services says he agreed to lease the building to Miliotis after earlier deals with prospective buyers, including a national church, fell through. He and Miliotis say they have begun "heavy" renovations they estimated at $300,000.

Miliotis says the facility, which most recently served as the Grace Street Cinemas, could be open by the start of spring semester. While the theater seating has been removed, a Pro-Construction representative at the site last week said the main theater screen will be kept as a stage backdrop.

Rob Morano

Lewis Ginter Loses Rose

Four years ago when a struggling Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden lured then-Assistant Executive Director Holly Shimizu away from the U.S. Botanic Garden in D.C. it was practically a coup.

Last week, Shimizu announced she'd be leaving her post as managing director for the now prosperous gardens to head back to Washington for a position she can't refuse.

Shimizu will become the first executive director of the U.S. Botanic Garden since Congress approved $33 million to rebuild the botanical conservatory there. Located on the mall in front of the Capitol, the 3-acre garden neighbors the new Museum of the American Indian and the Smithsonian. The garden features an array of native plants and a remarkable rose garden, says Shimizu.

"It's really in a stage of being at a crossroads," says Shimizu, "not unlike this garden."

Just years ago, that comparison would have seemed unlikely. When Shimizu arrived in December of 1996, the garden was about to embark on ambitious $41 million capital campaign. When Shimizu first visited the garden, she says, "it was at such a stage in its growth and I wanted to be a part of it," and she wanted to work with LGBG Executive Director Frank Robinson. "We could really see things happening right before our eyes."

Since her arrival, Shimizu has overseen the expansion of the gardens, including planning and expanding several gardens and greenhouses around the E. Claiborne Robins Visitors Center.

Shimizu's family moved to Richmond but kept its D.C. home. Her husband still works there. Giving up the commute is a big reason she accepted the new job. "We have teen-agers," explains Shimizu, "it's time to reunite our family."

It's a mixed blessing, she says. "This garden is in such a positive, positive place. It's creative and innovative, but you know where you are - yes, you're in Virginia."

The Rose Belvedere will be finished next week and planting begins soon.

An enclosed conservatory is in the works to make the garden more accessible year-round. "The garden's momentum is really strong, and I really see that continuing," says Shimizu. "Within five years it will be recognized nationally."

Brandon Walters

Kaine, Johnson Debate Fate of Lombardy Street

Construction and renovation activity along Lombardy Street between Broad Street and Brook Road promises to improve the appearance of the aging industrial corridor but may cost motorists a few moments of driving convenience.

A plan is in the works to close part of the Fan-District-to-North-Side shortcut and reroute traffic to a smaller side street.

Mayor Tim Kaine says he favors a proposal from Virginia Union University to close the quarter-mile stretch of Lombardy Street from Admiral Street to Brook Road for a new main entrance to the school.

"We just want … to reduce the amount of traffic running right through the middle of campus" on Lombardy Street, says Gil Carter, VUU director of university services. The street separates the main campus from VUU's Hovey Field.

Kaine says the project, proposed as part of the city's master plan, would improve safety and access to the school. "It's great for a lot of reasons," he says.

City Councilman Bill Johnson, whose Third District includes the area, says he opposes the plan due to resident and business concerns about interrupted traffic. "I'm going to keep an open mind to find a win-win," he says, but he fears "tremendous bottlenecks."

Under the current plan, northbound traffic on Lombardy Street would turn right at Admiral Street to reach Brook Road. Johnson says Admiral Street couldn't handle current Lombardy Street traffic, and certainly not increased traffic from current or planned expansion nearby. He cited construction and renovations at VCU, VUU, the Brook Road post office, a supermarket, Lowe's, the Maggie L. Walker Governor's School and a nine-hole golf course.

The city is conducting a traffic study to see who's right, and any closing will require City Council's OK. Meanwhile, plans remain for the 1933 railroad trestle over Lombardy Street to be removed.

"That is going to be done in conjunction with this new Lowe's," Kaine says. He'd also like Lombardy Street to be elevated and level with the rest of the road where it dips under the bridge. That and the other improvements "should create a nicer gateway from the Fan to North Side."


Swimming Center Sought for Area

Richmond could get its first Olympic-sized indoor pool in more than 30 years - and become a stop on the lucrative swim-meet circuit - if a Chesterfield County swimming team gets its way.

The 260-member Poseidon Swim Team Club and John Tyler Community College are in talks to build a 40,000-square-foot aquatic center at the college's Midlothian campus on Huguenot Road, officials say. The estimated $6 million facility would boast a 50-meter pool, a 13-foot-deep diving tank and spectator stands, among other amenities.

A John Tyler official confirmed the plans but referred questions to Poseidon representatives.

Poseidon board member Bob Smith says the club has completed an initial study of the project and has drawn up preliminary blueprints, but a massive fund-raising effort will have to be undertaken to secure the needed funds.

John Tyler would contribute land for the center but funding to build it would come from individuals and perhaps a few corporations, Smith says.

Chesterfield County was approached but has declined to participate, he says. The county pledged support to a proposed regional natatorium in 1995, but Henrico County voters effectively killed the project when they voted against a bond referendum to help finance it.

Poseidon and John Tyler have targeted two potential areas for the pool center, which would be the first in more than 30 years for the Richmond area.

Built in the early 1960s, Riverside Wellness and Fitness Center on Robious Road is the nearest indoor Olympic-sized pool, a Riverside manager says. He and Smith say the next-nearest such pools are in Northern Virginia and Tidewater.

"We're hoping to attract athletes from the entire East Coast," Smith says. A modern facility could attract hundreds of swimmers and their family members for competitions several times a year, he adds.


City Clean-Up Stalls On Increased Trash

Don't trash the city for falling behind on refuse removal.

Richmond Works Department spokesman Bill Farrar says the delays are temporary and the city should be back on track in four to six weeks.

Delays in removing some trash have arisen since the city dropped large-item fees July 1 and began collecting furniture and other large household items, including yard waste, set out next to the ubiquitous Supercans, for free.

"Sheer demand for the program has caused people to put out a lot more stuff," Farrar says. "Actually, it's only about 10 percent more stuff, but they are larger items so they take up more room."

Farrar adds that the arrival of fall and bags full of yard debris are "compounding the problem." The city's annual leaf-collection effort starts Nov. 6 but is a "separate and unaffected" program and should not experience delays, he says.

Meanwhile, the city is adding personnel, equipment and weekend work hours to clean up its act.



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