A mysterious lawsuit for Shockoe Bottom Arts Center 

Street Talk

Arts Center, Owner Locked in LawsuitKaine's Fan Fans Form "Air Force"Fightin' Joe Lets Firm GoJames Invited To Join Cabinet Free to Good Home: 31 Tons of Litter

A mysterious lawsuit for Shockoe Bottom Arts Center

Perennially cheery Rusty Davis has been slapped with a lawsuit, and he still sounds happy. But on the inside, he's piping mad.

Davis is president of Shockoe Bottom Arts Center, an artists' gallery and workshop that has rented space in the building since 1994. Last month, Secam Inc., owners of the building at 2001 E. Grace St., slapped Davis with a lawsuit that he says aims to drive him out of his lease.

Davis has hired an attorney and vows to fight Secam's attempt to take any of the center's space. Secam's lawsuit says Davis shouldn't be allowed to get in the way of their plans to develop the site.

Trouble first stirred in December when, Davis says, developer George Emerson called him to say he wanted to discuss Emerson's plans to buy a portion of the former tobacco factory from Secam.

But, for a while, Davis heard nothing more about it, Davis says, and he thought the "storm had passed."

Shockoe Bottom Arts Center rents the first and second floors of the building. Its lease runs until July 12, 2003. Davis says he has the chance to renew the lease in July 2002 if the owners of the building and the arts center agree to renew.

The argument turns on a provision in the lease that allows the owner to make repairs and improvements to the property.

Secam's lawsuit says: "Secam advised Shockoe [i.e., Davis] that it intended to develop [the] property in the future, and as a result, they might have to take all or a portion of the leased premises from Shockoe prior to the end of the term" of the lease.

But Davis argues that the owners can't push him out or into smaller quarters until his lease has run out.

Neither George Emerson nor Charles Bice, co-owner of Secam, could be reached for comment.

Davis has hired attorney Keith Phillips to represent the arts center in the suit.

"There's not a whole lot to say at this point," Phillips says. "We deny that their interpretation of that provision in the lease is accurate. We believe the landlord does not have the right to … just take back this leased property."

Shockoe Bottom Arts Center went to court once before in 1997 when it expanded its size to 140 rented spaces and crept onto the second floor. Today, there is a waiting list for studio space.

The gallery, Davis says, has provided the owners with many improvements, so many that his artists don't want to scale back their studios if the owners develop the building for another use.

"The owners are trying to bully us into renegotiating our lease," says Davis. "And we're not going to do it."

Brandon Walters

Kaine's Fan Fans Form "Air Force"

Four Fan residents who have taken to calling themselves the West Avenue Air Force are helping Richmond Mayor Timothy M. Kaine get his campaign for lieutenant governor, well, off the ground.

The group of pilots — all of whom happen to live on West Avenue — are flying Kaine around the state as a way to show their support for his candidacy.

Kaine is trying to land the democratic nomination for Virginia's second-highest office. Dels. Alan A. Diamonstein of Newport News and Jerrauld C. Jones of Norfolk are running against him in the July 12 primary.

"It's about Tim; it's not about me," demurs Warren Hottle, a retired consultant and pilot. "I'm just one of the folks that want to see Tim have a little more influence in the commonwealth."

Hottle, who owns a twin-engine Beechcraft Baron, offered Kaine his services after the mayor spoke at a local lunchtime speaker series in the fall. Kaine accepted, and Hottle eventually recruited some neighbors.

One of the recruits, Bill Hargis, jokingly refers to Hottle as "my captain."

Hargis, an entrepreneur, and his wife, Phaedra, an aviation writer, live down the street from Hargis. Both are pilots who own a single-engine, V-tailed Beechcraft Bonanza that can carry six.

Apparently, Kaine is a good flyer. "He's great," Bill says. "He's very comfortable on the plane, which is nice. He's pretty low-maintenance."

Late last year, Bill flew Kaine to Tazewell County for the opening of a highway — saving the drudgery of driving and time spent on the road.

It also saves money, although the campaign must report the flights as in-kind contributions. Hottle says his plane is $215 to rent, plus $75 per hour for fuel, which Kaine buys. He says a 45-minute trip to Lynchburg, for example, is worth about $275.

"Well, I think it's great that they're helping out the campaign," says Lisa McMurray, Kaine's campaign manager. "It just saves Tim a lot of drive time, and we're grateful that they're doing it."

And that may be the biggest contribution — convenience. Last weekend, the campaign used the West Avenue Air Force for a swing through Southwest Virginia, and for an event in Abingdon on Monday, where Rep. Rick Boucher of the 9th district was scheduled to endorse Kaine.

Jason Roop

Fightin' Joe Lets Firm Go

After dropping protests to a Virginia Bar Association decision that will suspend his law license for three years, feisty attorney Joe Morrisey has decided to let somebody else take control of the firm.

But it's not likely the same legacy of bravado will continue.

Attorney James Maloney has spent six years with Morrissey Hershner & Jacobs and when Morrissey's longtime absence seemed apparent, Maloney did what he says was natural — he stepped in. And when Morrissey "took a break from law," Maloney says, taking over his practice was the right thing to do.

He's not aiming to fill Morrissey's shoes, exactly.

The two have worked very closely together, Maloney says, and "we have similar opinions on how cases should be handled," and on how clients should be treated.

Maloney, 30, is making the necessary adjustments to being the boss. He confesses the business end is a lot more time-consuming than he would have guessed.

If there's any chance of Morrissey returning to the firm, mum's the word from Maloney. He says he's committed to move the firm forward.

But don't be surprised if you hear a faint murmur of the old Joe.

"I know I can provide the people of Richmond with top quality legal representation," says Maloney, "and the fighting spirit they have come to expect from this office."


James Invited To Join Cabinet

Former Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources Kay Coles James has been offered a position in the administration of President George W. Bush, Republican sources say.

James, who joined the conservative Heritage Foundation as a senior fellow in July 1999, served in former Gov. George Allen's cabinet. Welfare reform was one of the hallmarks of her tenure.

James did not return several phone calls seeking comment. But her background in public policy would not make a Bush-related job much of a shock.

James, who is black, served on the White House Task Force for the Black Family and the National Commission for Children under former President Reagan. And she was assistant secretary for health and human services for former President George Bush.

She is a graduate of Hampton University, and lives in Chesapeake, Va., with her husband and their three children.


Free to Good Home: 31 Tons of Litter

Cats of Central Virginia, be relieved.

A rejected 31-ton load of cat litter has found its way to its proper use.

Earlier this month, several rail cars full of dried bentonite clay — a base ingredient for clumping kitty litter — were supposed to be unloaded at CSX Corp.'s Transflo division. From there, they were to be trucked to kitty-litter companies, where they would be enhanced with perfume and other additives.

But some finicky workers at the station noticed a few kernels of corn in one of the rail car's compartments. The clay (cats, hold your ears) was … contaminated.

The compartment probably used to hold cattle feed and it hadn't been fully cleaned, theorizes Ren Schmidt, Transflo office manager for the station.

For kitty-litter companies, that's a problem. "Corn's not going to hurt a cat," Schmidt says, "but they still don't want to put it in with their good products."

Fortunately for felines, one of the truck drivers who delivers to and from Transflo volunteers for local humane societies, and suggested that the company whose shipment was contaminated make some donations.

Soon, the kitty litter had new homes — including the Hanover and Henrico humane societies and an animal refuge in Fredericksburg. Transflo had somewhere to send the load. The bentonite-clay company had a tax write-off.

And a life lesson was underscored, Schmidt says: "When things don't always go right, there's always good things to fall back on."

Of course, it may take a while to get rid of the 62,000 pounds of litter, she says: "Have you ever seen the litter boxes in the cages? They're small."

Local Transflo workers, unfortunately, couldn't help the situation by taking any of the litter home, Schmidt says. "I think we're all dog people."


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