Leveraging History 

Support grows for slave museum, tourism center near Lumpkin's Jail site.

Main Street Station, Richmond's iconic landmark to travelers on Interstate 95 that currently sees about two dozen Amtrak passengers a day, could play an important role in such a regional tourism plan.

“We talked about [Main Street Station] too,” McQuinn says of her meeting with Jones, adding that the discussion centered on possibly utilizing a portion of it as a regional visitor center, or even a state tourism center. “At least a part of it, having these kinds of mini-museums -- where you could go and it would tell the history of Richmond -- about 500 years of it. That discussion, too, was on the table.”

Academics backing McQuinn appreciate the idea of a centrally located history-based tourism center.

“I think that's a great idea,” says Coleman with the Civil War Center. “I think it's so much easier to access that site than to access the visitor center at the convention center — [in] that behemoth you don't know which way to go.”

And proposals to bring high-speed rail to Main Street Station, and a parallel proposal from GRTC Transit System to use federal tax credits to create a bus transfer station on top of the train shed, could both benefit a Shockoe Bottom development plan built around tourism, McQuinn says.

Using history as the bricks and mortar to revitalize Shockoe Bottom by no means excludes other development, says McQuinn, who is as realistic about the need for preservation as she is idealistic.

“You can't go in and dig up the whole place,” she says. “I think we're going to have to let some of it develop. I think there's room somewhere for both.”

Despite past acrimony with both previous baseball proposals, McQuinn says her opposition has never been about prohibiting business development in the Bottom. “Even with the ballpark issue, some of the development they proposed was really cool,” she says. “Some of it's needed.

“I don't think some of the people were so much opposed to the other development -- the businesses and the housing,” McQuinn says. “But I think there needs to be a defined area where we say here we only focus on development from a historic prospective. History and arts -- kind of a heritage area -- where beyond here you can't do anything but enhance the history.

“All of it needs to happen,” she says. “The timing is right. The thing of is it is, how do we make it happen in this economic climate?”

That often uncomfortable history may be central to Richmond's economic interest in the Bottom, because of the breadth and context of what happened there.

“It's really creating a bigger sense of Richmond's importance in the national narrative,” says the Valentine's Martin, noting Richmond's real historic significance is in a period of American history often under-explored and overlooked; the period after the Revolution and leading up to the creation of our Constitution. “It's the meaning of freedom, how it's expressed in government. When you look at what we have with the capitol, with the Statue for Religious Freedom -- there are a number of issues that were played out on the streets of Richmond that have major national significance.”

Which is why observing the ongoing conversation over the need for yet another study of Shockoe Bottom is so frustrating to Coleman at the Civil War Center.

“From what I understand in the in the last 10 years haven't there been like four studies down there?” Coleman says. “That's just crazy. Sometimes you just have to take that leap and stop investigating your navel every 10 minutes.

“Who's going to be the visionary for this city?” Coleman wonders. “We know that tourism is one of our biggest industries in the state. We know that the community itself needs to be able to wrap itself around some of those stories to be able to become a truly progressive community that will be able to attract more businesses to the city … to allow it to truly thrive.”

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