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Nothing Ruled Out for Prime Downtown Lot 

click to enlarge A symphony hall once was imagined for this empty lot. Now a task force must come up with another idea by December.

Scott Elmquist

A symphony hall once was imagined for this empty lot. Now a task force must come up with another idea by December.

Richmond CenterStage has had nearly five years to figure out what to do with one of downtown's prime pieces of real estate, about a half-block of empty land on Broad Street near hotels, the convention center and performing-arts venues.

There's a chance it could end up as a parking lot.

"You can't rule anything out," CenterStage spokesman Jay Smith says.

But more intriguing ideas are on the table, he promises: "It's going to be a much more interesting and complex thing than it being a parking lot or an ice-skating rink."

What those ideas are, he won't say. But time seems to be running out, according to an agreement between the city and the private nonprofit.

In 2007, the city agreed to allow Richmond CenterStage to refurbish the Carpenter Theatre and build a four-story performance space next to it. The empty lot, between Sixth and Seventh streets, is where a symphony hall originally was intended before plans were scaled back.

The agreement set a deadline to redevelop the lot within five years of a certificate of occupancy being issued for the performing arts center, which came in December 2009. Without a plan, the city could force CenterStage to sell the empty land.

Smith says a CenterStage task force headed by board member and retired McGuireWoods lawyer John W. Bates III started developing a plan in the spring.

Smith declines to say who's on the task force, except that it includes about a dozen members from CenterStage, CenterStage subsidiary Richmond Performing Arts Center and facilities management company SMG. He says other community partners have advised as well, but declines to name them.

But there seems to be no rush. Despite the looming December deadline, Smith says the task force has no timeline for making recommendations. A city spokeswoman said she was waiting to hear from CenterStage before issuing a comment.

In the meantime the lot will continue to serve as a temporary event space, which includes the annual ice-skating rink that's expected to return in November. The lot also has served as space for food trucks.

Standing across from the space Monday afternoon, hot-dog vendor Dominique Cole says he'd like to see restaurant or retail space put in soon.

Without activity there, he says, the area is dead quiet except for the lunch crowd. Anything would be an improvement. "I don't know exactly what," Cole says, "but it should be something permanent."

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