Richmond Police arrested one custodian at the 6th Street Marketplace food court on charges of violating probation and charged another with possession of marijuana Jan. 23.
Although the infractions are relatively minor, food court vendors say the arrests are symptomatic of a bigger problem. Speaking anonymously for fear of reprisal, many of them say they've been aware of drug use and "open air sales" occurring in the rear of the building and the back alley for more than a year.
Ironically, the building also houses the city's drug court facility on the second floor -- in the Blues Armory building where individuals whose court sentences require rehabilitation treatment and drug testing must report.
"On top of our deteriorating building, this was going on and we all had a feeling about it," says one tenant who requested anonymity. "We didn't have any definitive proof, but it's part of the unrest and decay going on."
The city owns the building through the Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority, which contracts with GVA Advantis to manage the building. The custodial service which employed the two men, Aubrey Gaines, 54, and Mario E. Johnson, 33, has its contract with Advantis. Gaines was charged with the probation violation; Johnson with possession of marijuana.
"GVA Advantis has released the current janitorial contractor and has secured a new contractor," RRHA Director Anthony Scott says in a written statement. "RRHA mandated that drug screening of employees of this new contractor occur, and any other contractor used by the management firm, for the facility." RRHA's contract with GVA Advantis did not previously require drug screenings.
Donna Ruff, who manages the building for Advantis, says drug court officials have raised questions about suspicious people hanging around in the downstairs food court, and Ruff has asked security to be vigilant.
Richmond's Department of Fire and Emergency Services also has headquarters on the second floor. It's scheduled to move to a building on Franklin Street in April. The drug court is slated to move into the Public Safety Building next to City Hall, although a date hasn't been set.
The half-dozen remaining food court tenants were told last year they needed to be out by early August. That deadline was extended until Feb.10, but as that deadline approaches, the future is still unclear.
Sheila Hill-Christian, the city's chief Administrative Officer who headed RRHA when the marketplace was partially demolished, says there's a possibility resettlement funds might be found for the remaining tenants.
"We are in the process of procuring the services of a relocation firm to review all of the tenants and their status, and we hope to make some final decision within the next 30 days," Hill-Christian says. Click here for more News and Features