Relocation Explored for Doomed Tree at Maggie Walker Memorial Site 

The tree stands at the triangle where Broad Street, Adams Street and Brook Road come together. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • The tree stands at the triangle where Broad Street, Adams Street and Brook Road come together.

Usually when a barbecue joint is interested in a tree, there’s smoked meat on the brain. But ZZQ Barbeque is more interested in keeping one imperiled local tree alive.

“I used to work right there on Adams for 10 years,” says Alex Graf, co-founder of the catering and pop-up venture. “I spent a lot of time with that tree.”

Graf has expressed an interest in helping to move the live oak tree at Broad and Adams streets, which the city has scheduled for removal to make way for a new plaza and a statue of Maggie Walker.

“We were in Texas looking at the native live oaks and thought, wouldn’t it be incredible if we could save this tree -- which isn’t native to the area but seems to be flourishing,” Graf says. “It’s a symbol of what we’re trying to bring to Richmond: Texas.”

ZZQ operates as a pop-up truck but is moving into a space in Scott’s Addition next summer and wants the tree there.

Plans for the memorial plaza caused controversy late last year because it called for the removal of the 26-year-old tree. A petition was started to keep the tree put. But the final design was approved in July with no oak tree in sight, and the plaza is set to be complete by the end of the year.

Ellyn Parker, the city’s public art coordinator, says that the tree is unmovable: “Arborists say the root is spread out and it’s entangled with infrastructure. When you have to chop up the roots to get through the sewer main, it won’t survive.”

Calls to the mayor’s office about interest in moving the tree went unanswered.

The idea to move the tree isn’t new. When Hardywood Park Craft Brewery learned about the issue last year, it offered to cover the expense of relocating the tree to its brewery on Ownby Lane. A spokesman says he was told that it wasn’t possible to transplant the oak “because of its grandeur.”

City arborist Luke McCall won’t say whether his office has evaluated the tree’s mobility, but says he gave residents the names of tree moving experts, a profession he calls “highly specialized, very expensive and not always successful.”

“Luke thinks the tree is absolutely viable to move and there’s a great survival rate,” Graf says. “And an arborist at a local nursery quoted me $25,000 to get the tree out of the ground. The hiccup came when they got a quote from a subcontractor with a crane to actually move the tree: $300,000.”

Graf questions the latter quote and is looking for another, declining to name the company. “Not that I don’t think we could raise that kind of money,” she says. “But it’s just a ridiculous amount of money to spend. As much as I would love to save that tree, it’s just one tree.”

Even with the funds, it means permission from the city and delaying plaza construction.

“The tree truly needs to be moved sometime between January and March because it’ll be dormant,” Graf says. “If the city is on board to close the street while we pull it out and close streets while we drive it from one place to another, we could take it straight down Leigh Street.”

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