It's A Dry Season at Dogwood Dell 

Street Talk

It's A Dry Season at Dogwood DellCity Murals In Zoning Cross Hairs AgainFirst Market Says Profits Are AheadMorrissey's A No-Show For "Breakout" RoleArea 51 Fired Up Over City OrderIt's A Dry Season at Dogwood Dell

Dogwood Dell's been hot this season — and dry.

The free city-owned amphitheater at Byrd Park started its season of plays, concerts and dance performances in early June amid sweltering temperatures and some angry, thirsty patrons who were surprised to find out that there was no concession stand.

The city Department of Parks and Recreation received some complaints, says parks spokesperson Angela Jackson-Archer, but the situation wasn't the department's fault. No one replied when bids were sought for the Dogwood Dell concessions contract, so the city had to actively look for someone to take the contract, Jackson-Archer says.

There were no food or drinks available for sale during the 43rd Annual Festival of the Arts performances by the Richmond Ballet, the Earthtones, Shakespeare's "Love's Labor Lost," and the Kings of Swing between June 8-12.

The city finally found a vendor, C.J.'s Chicken, Fish & Things, about a week after the season started, but the problem's not over, evidently. Last week, during performances of Neil Simon's "Barefoot in the Park," C.J.'s didn't show up, despite a contract that requires the vendor to be at all performances at the Dell.

Darryl Harris, manager of the truck-based C.J.'s, says he was asked by theater producers not to sell during "Barefoot" because his truck's generators are too noisy and would interfere with the performance. Jackson-Archer says her department is looking into the situation, "because that shouldn't be happening. The contract stipulates they should be there."

Either way, C.J.'s is getting some strange looks from theatergoers. It's owned by Johnson's Bail Bonding, and an ad on the truck advertises the bonding service, as well as the fish and chicken.

One bemused and slightly perplexed Dell patron decided to ask about the bonds. Though she learned you couldn't buy them from the concession truck, she says she was told, "Well, if you get in a little trouble on your way home, now you know who to call."

— R.F.

City Murals In Zoning Cross Hairs Again

If you shed a tear at the thought of losing the Mexican beauty painted on the side of Bandito's Burrito lounge on West Cary Street, brace yourself. There may be more lost murals to mourn before the city is through.

On July 13, Style Weekly reported that the owners of Bandito's were ordered by city zoning officials to cover the painting on the side of their building.

Between Belvidere and Boulevard, 16 Main Street properties have wall paintings.

A zoning official visited The Hole In The Wall, a restaurant at 309 N. Laurel St., about two weeks ago, shortly after partner Mark Avery applied for a permit to make interior renovations. Avery says the official said the words "Hole in the Wall," in a large mural on the side of the establishment must be painted over to make the "sign" a "mural."

"For them to ask us to deface [the mural] for the fine print in a law is ridiculous," Avery says.

"I'm furious about it," says Ed Trask, the artist who painted the mural, and subsequently repainted it on July 22. "I was shocked. It kills me."

Earlier this month, the city informed Ed Eck, who owns the buildings on West Main Street that house Style Weekly and Inside Business, that the paintings on the side of those businesses (both Trask projects), were not in compliance with city regulations. Ed Eck did not return calls for comment.

A city zoning official says the mural crackdown is coincidental. He says his department is not proactive but simply making sure everything is in compliance when a business applies for a building permit.

"I never once construed these to be signs. I considered them to be murals," Trask says. "I think these murals add to the architecture of [Main] Street."

Trask says he has had two mural commissions canceled in the last week — one a high-profile Main Street property — because the owners are not sure what response the city will have.

He's worried that the city is missing the point of his work, and isn't allowing anyone the artistic license to beautify a wall, whether or not it's technically a sign.

"The city shouldn't have the power to say 'sign' or 'art'" Trask says. "There's got to be strict guidelines. It can't be ambiguous."

— Mark Stroh

First Market Says Profits Are Ahead

You might call it the wisdom of the profits.

First Market Bank's strategies have confounded some local banking experts, but its president, John Presley, says after nearly two years of losses, the bank will show its first profit on its July 31 quarterly filing with the FDIC.

Since opening in November 1997, the bank has brought in an astounding $350 million in deposits. It has lent out about $130 million, or about 37 percent of the bank's total assets, says Presley, who declines to specify how big the bank's profit margin will be.

First Market CEO James Ukrop announced early this year that the bank would break even by January and show a profit on FDIC filings by March, but that didn't happen, largely due to federal changes in requirements for reporting amortized start-up costs, Presley says.

First Market is unique as the first bank co-owned by a bank holding company, Tennessee-based National Commerce Bancorporation (NCBC), and a supermarket, Ukrop's.

Some local economists have puzzled over First Market's strategy. The bank gathered huge deposits with attractive interest rates in a short span, but was slow to lend out money, which created losses.

Any bank expects to lose money at first, however, and NCBC's strategy has always been to build a big deposit base so there's more to lend, Presley says. Furthermore, he adds, First Market has diversified into commercial and residential mortgage and real-estate loans, which are growing steadily.

The approach would seem to work: NCBC has consistently been ranked the top-performing bank in the nation in factors such as return on equity and efficiency by leading financial institutions and banking publications such as U.S. Banker.

— R.F.

Morrissey's A No-Show For "Breakout" Role

How's this for irony?

Bad-boy local attorney Joe Morrissey was slated to play an escaped convict in a student play at TheatreVirginia this month, but he couldn't make it.

He was in jail at the time.

"We got a good laugh out of it," says Elan Connor, TheatreVirginia's director of education and outreach.

Currently serving a 90-day sentence for contempt of court in Northern Neck Regional Jail in Warsaw, Morrissey will stand trial Aug. 24 on a charge of aggravated malicious wounding for allegedly beating up a building contractor, slamming the man's head into a brick wall and through a glass door.

Morrissey took an acting class at the University of Richmond earlier this year and was to have played the role of an escaped prisoner who stumbles into a camp of survivalists in the play "Y2Kaos," performed July 17 at TheatreVirginia.

"He gave quite a good audition really," Connor says of the legal-eagle-turned-thespian.

Written by a York County high school student, "Y2Kaos" was one of nine plays produced as part of TheatreVirginia's 10th annual "New Voices" workshop, a program encouraging young playwrights.

So, was there any hope that life might imitate art and Battlin' Joe might show up for his performance?

Sadly, no, Connor says, laughing. Morrissey's part was recast and performed by local actor Jeff Clevenger. "We knew there was pretty much no hope," she says, of Morrissey treading the boards while he was behind bars.

— R.F.

Area 51 Fired Up Over City Order

The general manager of a Shockoe Bottom Nightclub says the city has forced her club to build what she calls a "wall of death."

The club, at 1713 E. Main St. in Shockoe Bottom, has been redesignated a nightclub rather than a restaurant because it has a dance floor. Therefore, the city ordered it to construct a $3,000 fireproof wall separating the front and back rooms in order to comply with fire safety codes. A metal door in the middle will be the only opening.

General Manager Robyn Burrows says that if a fire were to start at Area 51 it would most likely be in the kitchen, forcing patrons to the only other emergency exit, the door in the new firewall. "What was a large opening now has heat-sensitive doors that will automatically shut. People will have to find their way to the doors, get the doors open and exit."

Building Commissioner Claude Cooper says he feels confident that patrons in Area 51's back room would have time to escape a fire. "You would have a relatively small number, so it doesn't take them as long to get out," he says. Plus, Cooper points out that Area 51 had the option to install a sprinkler system instead of a fire wall, but Burrows says a $15,000 sprinkler system was not affordable for the club.

In addition to constructing a fire wall, Area 51 must reduce occupancy from 300 to 160. The club will still be required by law to obtain 45 percent of its profits from food sales.

Burrows says the city's stringent laws discourage downtown revitalization.

"A lot of people wonder why all the bars are closing down; this is why. It's frustrating to me, someone who's in the business and would like to open their own restaurant someday. There's no way I'm going to do it in the state of Virginia."

— Carrie Nieman

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