Goodbye, Mayo Island concerts … 

Street Talk

Mayo Island Concerts Go Under"Napoleon" Meets Its WaterlooCity to Host Gold ConfabElected-Mayor Debate ContinuesCullen Helping To Staff Justice Mayo Island Concerts Go Under When spring fever hits Richmond this year, concertgoers will have one less outdoor venue to choose from. After five years spent promoting concerts on Mayo Island, the 14-acre slice of nature nestled south of Shockoe Bottom and the Canal Walk, developer Mark Brown is moving out and onto higher ground. The decision to close down Mayo Island's concert site hasn't been an easy one, says Brown, owner of Mayo Island Entertainment and Mayo Island Enterprises. Before signing a long-term lease with the island's owner Fred Shaia, Brown, 37, had searched for years for what he hoped would be the perfect location to build an ambitious, if not improbable, entertainment complex attracting thousands to year-round events. Brown's plan called for promoting the city-center island as a destination site that would host major concerts and boast a major restaurant chain, Jillian's, in a 35,000-square-foot warehouse there. And, unlike other downtown prospects, parking wasn't a problem — 700 spaces are available nearby. The first widely publicized concert in 1996, a benefit for Feed the Future, failed to attract the kind of crowd Brown and his then-partner, Brett Cassis, had expected. But soon events like the annual Earth Day celebration and the Mayo Island Music Festival became staples for local music lovers. Crowds turned out by the thousands. Still, Brown failed to secure the necessary investors or tenants to pump money into the project, and the 15 or so events he could put on during summer months couldn't pay the bills. The restaurant deal fell through; Brown says the chain wasn't willing to shell out the $1.5 million needed to overhaul the warehouse building. Moreover, Brown says, he discovered two problems he didn't consider when leasing the space: The island doesn't have a sewer system, and it's smack in the middle of a major flood plain. "The sewer is something that can be fixed," says Brown, although to do so would cost at least $500,000, he says. "But I don't know how the flood thing can be resolved. At some point that island is going to flood." The Bela Fleck concert in late October was Mayo Island's last. "On November first we had to make a decision," says Brown. It's possible other concert promoters may use the island, he adds. But the risks, he says, are inevitable. Brown plans to help find a location for and promote the 12th-annual Earth Day celebration in April. He says he still plans to promote concerts in the area - but not at Mayo Island. He takes comfort, he says, that on some levels his investment was a success. "I'm definitely going to miss the environment we created," says Brown. "I think Mayo Island made a name for itself and brought a lot of great names to Richmond." Brandon Walters "Napoleon" Meets Its Waterloo Looks like the battle's over, and "Napoleon: The Musical" has lost. The epic theatrical production, whose design team includes VCU's theatre-department chairman David Leong, opened on London's West End last fall. Producers were hopeful the piece would emerge victorious and someday march on to Broadway. But London's critics stood in the way. "Londoners generally like the typical straight play as opposed to musicals," explains Leong, who choreographed the show's extensive battle sequences. Apparently. The Independent's reviewer called it "hours of hammy historical hokum"; other critics denounced the piece as shallow and unoriginal. But critics don't know everything. "Napoleon" was "a huge audience success," Leong says. "People who have seen the show rave about it." The show was selling out on weekends, but scanty attendance at early-week performances prevented it from averaging a 65 percent capacity house, the minimum needed to keep it going financially. "We all feel that it was one of the most rewarding and creative shows we ever worked on," Leong says. "There is some feeling that we should have opened the show somewhere else." The cast will give its final performance Feb. 3 at London's Shaftesbury Theatre. There is talk of mounting another production of it next year, perhaps in Japan, Germany or Australia. "We had complete confidence in the product, and still do," Leong says. "We believe it is quality material. The only tragedy is that the critics were able to get away with what they did." Holly Timberline City to Host Gold Confab A month after a car crashed through its window, ruining its inventory and threatening to shut down business, Artemis Gallery has received some good news. And it's not money from a hefty insurance reimbursement. Artemis Gallery is one of nine local venues asked to host installations for Material Considerations, the Society for North American Goldsmiths' (SNAG) annual conference to take place this year Feb. 28 through March 3 at the Omni Richmond Hotel. "We're so excited they asked us to be part of it," says Artemis owner John Crutchfield. "It gives us something very positive to focus on as we rebuild." The SNAG conference is the annual meeting of the association of about 2,500 jewelers, designers and metalsmiths. The conference is expected to attract artists and craftsmen from as far away as California and Canada. Exhibitions will be displayed at the following galleries: Artemis Gallery; Carreras Ltd.; Cudahy's Gallery; Dransfield Jewelers; Hand Workshop Art Center; James Center Atrium; Jay Sharpe; Phenomenon Gallery; and the 1000 W. Broad St. Gallery at Virginia Commonwealth University. In addition to exhibited work, the conference includes presentations and workshops to be held locally at Virginia Commonwealth University and the Hand Workshop. Clare Phillips, an expert on 20th-century jewelry at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, will be the keynote speaker. "It's rare that we would get a conference like this," says Crutchfield, noting last year's Boston location. "Usually they pick much bigger, hipper cities." For more information about pre- or post-conference workshops, e-mail: stargazermsb@yahoo.com. B.W. Elected-Mayor Debate Continues Debate still stirs over whether Richmond should have an elected mayor. Despite City Council's vote last fall to kill a commission to study Richmond government and make a recommendation about whether to create an elected mayorship, one group is keeping the idea alive. The new group, Richmonders for Effective Government, has scheduled a public forum March 15 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center at Virginia Commonwealth University. The group, says Chairman Christopher Graham, includes representatives from various neighborhood teams, community organizations, interested civic and business leaders and members of the Coalition for Greater Richmond. REG aims to promote deliberate, informed debate on issues regarding city government, not just the elected-mayor proposal, Graham adds. These include extended term limits for City Council members, partisan elections and changing city elections from May to November. But the elected-mayor issue tops its list. WCVE-Channel 23's president Charlie Sydnor will moderate the event and mayors from localities such as Norfolk and Virginia Beach have been invited to talk about how revisions in municipal leadership have affected their communities. "We want to give everybody a good balance of the forms of government out there," says Graham. The forum will explore types of city government, ranging from the council-manager model that Richmond follows to Virginia Beach's elected-mayor form to a strong-mayor style like that in New York and Detroit. City Council's recent decision to dismiss the study commission — and, with it, the concept of an elected mayor — results largely from an outpouring of resistance by some who say an elected-mayor system compromises the black vote and gives too much power to a city official. After the commission was voted down, Richmonders for Effective Government decided to continue discussions in a public forum format. "We still feel it's important," says Graham. "We're in this for the long haul." - B.W. Cullen Helping To Staff Justice While U.S. attorney general nominee John D. Ashcroft defends his way through contentious confirmation hearings, a Richmond attorney is working behind the scenes to help choose Ashcroft's underlings. Richard Cullen, a partner at McGuireWoods who filled in as Virginia attorney general for seven months when Gov. Jim Gilmore left the position to run for governor, is an adviser to the Bush-Cheney transition team assigned to the Department of Justice. In that role, Cullen acts as a sounding board for the transition team members who must ultimately pick the staff of the nation's highest prosecutorial office. "It's fun — no responsibility," says Cullen, laughing. "You're just talking about who would be good people for different jobs. You're giving advice and counsel — but not making any decisions." After it became clear that George W. Bush had won the presidential election, Cullen says, he received an e-mail from former Congressman Bill Paxon, chairman of the Bush-Cheney transition advisory committee, asking for help. "I was real honored to be asked," Cullen says. Cullen is doubly qualified for the job. Not only is he a former employee of the Department of Justice as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, he was appointed to that position by George W.'s father. He was also one of 10 U.S. attorneys who advised the elder Bush and the attorney general on criminal-justice matters. Now, he's pulling out that experience — and those contacts. At the Justice Department the Bush team is working to fill the top-level jobs first — deputy attorney general, assistant attorneys general and the solicitor general. The hiring begins with a winnowing process that puts candidates through professional, scholarly and philosophical filters. Overall, the Bush administration is working to replace about 6,000 Clinton appointees with their own people. As for Ashcroft, whose nomination has caused an outcry from Democrats and some special-interest groups, Cullen's not worried. "Our assumption is that he will be confirmed," Cullen says. "And people who are being considered and considering jobs should assume that he will be their boss." There's a good chance a number of capital-city residents will be considering jobs with Bush — and not only in the Department of Justice. Gilmore, after all, has been buddy-buddy with Bush, and Virginia has elected two Republican senators. Because Bush is obsessed with secrecy, no one in town will confirm even asking for a job with him. But a number of people are being mentioned including Richard D. Holcomb, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles; Claude A. Allen, secretary of health and human resources; John Paul Woodley Jr., secretary of natural resources; and former secretary of health and human services and current Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow Kay Coles James. — Jason Roop

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