Million Mom March bus fracas causes council to re-evaluate discretionary spending … 

Street Talk

Council May Add Limits to Discretionary FundsCruiser Madness Strikes City StreetsFree Press Gets New DigsJade Elephant Gets Carved UpTales From the CryptCouncil May Add Limits to Discretionary Funds

After taking fire for backing a gun-control rally in Washington this month, Richmond City Council members will consider adding limits on how they can spend their discretionary funds.

At the Council's meeting last week, member Sa'ad El-Amin took up Mayor Tim Kaine on his suggestion to think about adding limits and to report back to the Council with any recommendations.

Kaine's suggestion followed a lengthy explanation at the Council meeting about why the city backed the rally and why he feels it is right for him to use his discretionary account to pay for chartered buses to the May 14 event.

City Council passed a proclamation in April supporting the Million Mom March and directed the city manager's office to meet with local rally organizers and work out details of the city's support. But after news reports that the city would pay for buses taking Richmonders to the rally, officials drew fire from gun-control opponents and others who called it an inappropriate expenditure.

According to city officials and local Million Mom March organizers, the city manager's office committed up to $7,500 for the rally. However, after the city's involvement in the rally was criticized, Kaine quickly offered to pay expenses - now estimated by officials and organizers at about $9,000 - out of his discretionary account.

Each Council member gets about $100,000 to spend on pet projects, which must be approved by the city manager. Discretionary funds may not be spent on personal expenses or political campaigns.

Councilman John Conrad says he wants to work with El-Amin in drafting any proposed new limits on the funds.
Rob Morano

Cruiser Madness Strikes City Streets

Is it a new-age hearse, a Mafia ride, or something from an old ZZ Top video? Whatever, it's hot and hyped and the mid-level hysteria isn't lost on local Chrysler dealers. "It's the biggest thing since the '64* Mustang," grins Jimmy Whitten, as a cranberry-colored Chrysler PT Cruiser pulls out of his new car lot for another test-drive. Though he may be conveniently forgetting the Volkswagen Beetle, it's clear that Internet-driven marketing for the 2001 Cruiser is causing a stir among potential buyers. "They line up on weekends to take it around the block," Whitten's sales manager Lin Davis says. "We've got 100 on order so far. We've just never seen anything like it." Buyers include a county police chief, a guy who ordered two in one week, and an 83-year old man who's enthralled with the retro-style appointments.

The Cruiser's a four-cylinder, five-passenger car/truck with a price tag between $16,000 and $21,500. "Very affordable for the baby boomer market," says Perry Drewry of Haynes Jeep Chrysler Plymouth. "It's got a lot of utility and a unique look. Nothing else in the market is remotely close to it." The dealership gives full credit to the interactive Internet campaign that predated the first deliveries: "It created a lot of excitement," Drewry says. Appearing in national magazine spreads and on the cover of Style's Christmas Gift Guide couldn't hurt, either; and in movie theaters, devil-themed commercials are building buzz among the attention-seeking set. These are the folks ordering Inferno Red or Bright Silver paint jobs, the better-to- be-noticed in those getaway scenes.

This may be the car of the moment, but with back-orders cranking out of a factory in Mexico, it will be a quarter-year or longer just to get the keys. Here's hoping these trend-conscious buyers will develop a tolerance for delayed gratification.
— Deveron Timberlake

Free Press Gets New Digs

The Richmond Free Press is trading its Broad and Adams street address for a spot where the action is - especially since the YMCA, The Jefferson Hotel and Media General have changed the streetscape of East Franklin. And soon, the city's free weekly African-American paper will be just a stone's throw from Richmond's daily paper.

According to Tucker Adams, president of Adams Property Associates, the Imperial Building at 5th and Franklin streets has been purchased by publisher Raymond Boone and others as part of a limited liability corporation. The property is scheduled to close May 30, says Adams. Boone did not return repeated calls for comment.

Boone's Free Press will occupy the 2nd floor of the building that once was home to Imperial Tobacco. The rest of the building will be rented to other tenants, including Adams' company, which already is housed on the first floor of the 1920-circa federal-style building.

"It's going to be a gorgeous place," says Adams, explaining Boone's plans to refurbish the second floor to its original splendor, plus a few modern conveniences. Editorial offices are paneled floor to ceiling with hard cherry wood imported from India in the 20s. Two of the offices have working marble fireplaces. But perhaps the most intriguing thing in the offices is the secret panel in what will be Boone's office. Adams says it used to be the place where old tobacco giants at Imperial kept their whiskey tucked away for safe keeping.

Adams says Boone plans eventually to open again the building's Franklin Street entrance which closed decades ago to offer a less conspicuous and more accessible 5th Street entrance across from the John Marshall Hotel.

"He wants to have a high-profile image," says Adams about Boone. "He wants people to walk in and be wowed."
Brandon Walters

Jade Elephant Gets Carved Up

There are signs of life at the Jade Elephant again. But those are power tools you hear, not guitars and blenders.

Construction is under way at the former landmark Grace Street bar and restaurant to turn the long-vacant building into apartments.

The Jade Elephant, a fixture of Richmond nightlife in the 1980s, has been gutted and will be transformed into upscale rentals by the end of summer, says owner Marianne Fitzhugh, a one-time patron of the club.

"I ate there 20-some years ago," she says.

Fitzhugh adds that the current work follows recently completed repairs to her building next door to the Jade Elephant, at 907 W. Grace St.

That building now contains four two-bedroom apartments renting for $825 to $850 a month, says Jackie Puccinelli of Metro Properties, which manages the property for owners Fitzhugh and husband, Bill.

"We're very proud of it," Fitzhugh says of the completed building. "They're really nice apartments." The Jade Elephant will be converted into a three-bedroom and two two-bedroom units of comparable rents, she adds.

The VCU Real Estate Foundation purchased the Jade Elephant for $135,000 at a July 1995 auction, intending to level the building and turn the property into a park. Several developers later approached VCU with various plans for the building, but the property sat empty for most of the decade.
— R.M.

Tales From the Crypt

Richmond photographer William "Bunt" Young didn't know much about disturbing the dead. In fact, it had never crossed his mind.

Until he was asked by a Fox News project coordinator to join a team of six photographers asked to capture the much anticipated and even more hyped Fox two-hour special "Opening the Tombs of the Golden Mummies Live," broadcast May 24.

Young, 36, who lives west of the Boulevard in the Museum District, has worked on everything from photographing the Indianapolis 500 for ESPN to shooting commercials written and directed by local brothers Mike and Patrick Henry for "Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels' new show "Burly Bear." But he'd never been to Egypt. What's more, says Young's longtime Richmond friend, Jeanne Boisineau, "He really didn't know anything about archaeology."

At Style's presstime, Young was on a plane on his way home from Egypt and his seven-day adventure with Fox News.

Hosted by former "20/20" host Hugh Downs and actor Bill Pullman, Fox's "Opening the Tombs" special touted its exclusive as one of the most must-see moments in live TV. But when it came for the broadcast's climax — removing the 12-ton casket cover from the sarcophagus of the 5th century governor of Bahariya — the mummy was nothing more than a pile of dust. Still, Dr. Zahi Hawass, the project's chief archaeologist called the excavation - which included other mummy finds, hieroglyphics, and untapped catacombs — a major discovery, and ranked it as one of the most important in Egypt's history.

For Young, it was a weeklong crash course in the Sahara Desert, not exactly a vacationland replete with amenities. "He was kind of apprehensive," says Boisineau. "He's terrified of snakes," which according to Boisineau, were placed in tombs for good luck and to ward off evil spirits. For Boisineau, the most exciting part of the broadcast was not seeing the mummies or the golden hieroglyphics or going back in time 2,700 years. It was hearing Young's name called out as the cameramen led the way on the 50-foot descent into the tombs. "There was no space at all and right before they shined the light, you could see him standing there," she says, making history. "It was so cool."
— B.W.

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