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Filling in the Bank: a Riverside Idea 

click to enlarge Former James River Park Manager Ralph White and advocate Rick Tatnall envision food vendors, farmers markets and festivals on what’s now an empty, one acre spot on the James River.

Scott Elmquist

Former James River Park Manager Ralph White and advocate Rick Tatnall envision food vendors, farmers markets and festivals on what’s now an empty, one acre spot on the James River.

As far as barren concrete pads go, it has to be one of the nicest in the city. It sits down the James from the city center at a 90-degree bend in the river, offering picturesque views of the skyline to the west and the shoreline to the east beyond Rocketts Landing.

But aside from a handful of fishermen, this city-owned property on Wharf Street is more or less unused. Ralph White, the former director of the James River Park System, and Rick Tatnall, a citizen advocate, aim to change that.

Like so many hopeful visions of urban reuse, theirs is a colorful one full of food trucks, concerts, cafe seating and farmers markets.

But more than other sites, they say, this one acre pad demands rejuvenation because of its breathtaking view and unique position directly abutting the James River, connecting the city's East End to the water in a way no other location does.

"It'll be like the poor man's Boathouse, where real people can harvest the beauty of the river," White says, referring to the nearby fine-dining establishment.

White and Tatnall will hold a community meeting Thursday to discuss how the site might be used. They're meeting on the pad — bring a chair — at 7 p.m.

The pad began life as the floor of a warehouse that primarily stored sugar shipped up the river. White says the long-disused structure was demolished roughly 15 years ago.

The site is included in the city's riverfront plan as an event space. White and Tatnall's goal is to encourage the city to move forward with plans for the pad, and to get people as enthusiastic about this property as they are about some of the riverfront plan's flashier elements — for example, the much-lauded dam walk across the river.

While the walk would cost millions, Tatnall and White estimate that they can add programming and features such as tables and chairs for a few thousand dollars.

"If we don't get involved," Tatnall says, "it'll just sit here unused as it has for so long — a waste of a great spot."

"The real issue is, how do we use this starting this year?" White says. "Would this be a cool place to come in to have a drink? To eat some food in the evening on a Friday or Saturday night? All you have to do is figure out how to manage it. And I think that's not beyond bringing a few heads together to think it out."

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