Cornwell Bids Richmond Adieu; New Police Digs in Works; Cary Court Getting a Face Lift; Meteorologist Resigns After Assault Charge 

Street Talk

Cornwell Bids Richmond Adieu

Dr. Kay Scarpetta may be one of crime fiction's most durable heroines, but these days her creator's ties to Richmond appear to be fleeting.

Neighbors report that Patricia Cornwell has moved out of her home at 10250 Cherokee Road. She bought the white brick French provincial two-story in May 1999 for $1.2 million. The home is currently assessed at $731,600.

Nobody's talking about where the novelist has gone, but Cornwell owns properties in Hilton Head, S.C., and New York.

Cornwell, characteristically, could not be reached for comment. But neighbors say that in recent months the author has said that in Richmond she sometimes felt she lived in a fishbowl.

And famous, rich, eccentric writers certainly don't have to put up with that.

Cornwell prefers to keep to herself — except when she's making one of her famously peculiar public appearances.

For example, Cornwell's entourage has been instructed to wear all black, especially at public events. At times the writer's security detail has been larger and more conspicuous than the governor's. A few years ago she literally dropped in at Willow Lawn via helicopter for a book signing at Barnes & Noble.

Cornwell did her share for Richmond. Five years ago she helped launch a highly successful awareness campaign for Virginia Blood Services. And just two years ago she gave $10,000 to outfit area police dogs with bulletproof vests.

The state GOP might miss her, too. Since 1997, Cornwell has given $318,000 to Virginia candidates, almost all of them Republicans.

Whoever moves into her Cherokee Road house next could inherit some impressive security measures. Her property on the James is fully fenced with motorized gates and halogen exterior lighting. A bank of security monitors is highly visible just inside a front window.

For years, the neighborhood has ricocheted with stories of her lavish renovations and redecorating projects. Once, Cornwell talked of building her dream home here. Now it seems that dream will fall somewhere else. — Brandon Walters

Meteorologist Resigns After Assault Charge

Former Channel 12 meteorologist Ben Woods, who resigned from the NBC affiliate in late August, did not leave under the happiest of circumstances.

Earlier that month, his wife, Mora, had him arrested, filing an assault charge against him in Chesterfield County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court.

In her complaint, Woods' wife says that on Aug. 14 she and Woods were having an argument at an unspecified Amoco station about the two of them separating. Woods, according to the complaint, "put his hands on her throat" and tried to keep her there, leaving visible marks on her hands and face, the complaint says.

Woods was arrested and appeared in court the next day. A judge issued a temporary, 14-day protective order barring him from contact with his wife.

Style was unable to contact Woods for comment. He is not listed in the local telephone directory. Channel 12 General Manager Don Richards says he doesn't know Woods' whereabouts, and court records do not indicate the name of his attorney. A message left by Style at a phone listing for Mora Woods was not returned by press time.

Woods, a Richmond native, joined WWBT-TV in 1998, according to the Channel 12 Web site. He was part of the morning news team and specialized in severe weather.

Beyond his weather duties, Woods was visible in a number of station promos in which he was featured with his four sons, who are home-schooled, and his wife. He also promoted a program that encouraged children to read books, then send in drawings he would show on-air.

Richards, Channel 12's GM, declines to comment on Woods' departure, citing policies regarding personnel issues.

He says he will stand by an Aug. 27 memo to station staffers in which he wrote of Woods: "His contributions to 12 News speak for themselves. Ben leaves with our best wishes for him and his family."

Contracts for many high-profile television news personalities include a so-called morality clause, which is meant to ensure they represent the stations with proper conduct. Richards, however, delined to confirm whether Woods' contract included such a clause.

Woods is scheduled to appear in Chesterfield County court on Sept. 11 for a hearing that will determine whether the temporary protective order will become permanent. His assault charge is scheduled to be heard before a judge on Sept. 13. — Jason Roop

New Police Digs in Works

The Richmond Police are getting used to the idea that they're getting a new home.

On Aug. 27, renovation began at the former Farm Bureau building at 202 W. Grace St. A police spokesperson says the $8.6 million contract was awarded to Beers/Heyward & Lee contractors, the firm that among other jobs recently finished work on the Federal Building downtown.

Richmond Police have had their headquarters in the aging Public Safety building near City Hall for decades. The gray-and-white granite building houses other municipal offices and, on its lower level, Richmond's General District Court. In recent years, the building has come under fire for being, of all things, unsafe.

Richmond Police are eager for the move. Still, they're not exactly holding their breath. The renovations will be extensive and won't be completed until 2003.

The building has a history of being a place where crimes were studied and solved. It once served as an operations site for the F.B.I. — B.W.

Cary Court Getting a Face Lift

After five years of hemming and hawing about how and when, it looks like a little shopping enclave in Carytown is about to get gussied up. And it's a good thing. It's practically historic.

If all goes smoothly, Cary Court Shopping Center could receive historic tax credits soon that could help fund the needed remodeling.

Built in the 1930s, Cary Court may well be the oldest strip mall in the city. It includes about 17 stores and offices — most of them retail — that stretch from Tiffanys Bridal and Formal on the east to women's clothing store Pink on the west.

The property is owned by the C.F. Sauer family and managed by Commonwealth Commercial Partners. A tight-lipped Jim McVey, the property manager for the center, acknowledges a major renovation is in the works but says details are still being discussed.

A manager at Schwarzschild Jewelers says renovation work was supposed to begin in February.

What McVey will confirm shatters — at least for now — a perennial rumor in Carytown: that a Gap store is coming. Workers at Tobacco House say they heard months ago that the retail giant was eyeing the largest space in Cary Court, the one that most recently was an antiques gallery.

But that's simply not true, McVey insists. Most merchants say that's a good thing. (Can you imagine the parking?)

Word on the street is that Cary Court's tattered gray fa‡ade will be spruced up in an art deco style like specialty shops in Miami or Beverly Hills.

Deborah Boschen, owner of Pink, is excited for the work to begin. She's been renovating a bit lately, too. Boschen is in the process of launching P2 — what she describes as hyper-trend-attitude clothing — on the mezzanine of Pink. The changes in store for the exterior of Cary Court, she says, should be equally cool.

But for now merchants are simply hungry for details. "When we see the other tenants we trip them up and ask what's going on," says Boschen with a laugh. — B.W.


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