December 15, 2015 News & Features » Cover Story


Now Developing: How 11 Richmond Public Spaces Are Being Re-Imagined for Better or for Worse 

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click to enlarge SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

The T. Tyler Potterfield Bridge

While the Bridgepark plan gains traction, there’s a pedestrian and bicycle bridge on the city planning boards that was supposed to have been completed by now.

The T. Tyler Potterfield Bridge is designed to rest relatively low to the river and built atop the stone piers of an old trestle. It will extend the existing April 1865 monument, which juts out over the river at the western end of Brown’s Island.

The budgeted project was being managed by Potterfield, a senior planner for the city, Oregon Hill resident and ardent cyclist. But when he died in 2014, it was decided wisely to name the crossing in his honor. The $9.5 million project is slated for completion next fall.

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The GRTC Pulse

Is the Pulse, a faster moving bus system that will connect Rocketts Landing with Willow Lawn by traveling along Main, Broad and 14th streets, as good as it could be?

No, of course not. But finally, transportation planners are offering a fresh approach to public transit here.

The whining and opposition to the $54 million project from some quarters, especially from civic associations, is grating and shortsighted: “Too many lost parking spaces,” “Too many lost customers,” “Too much disruption during construction,” and so on.

But the region’s vehicular traffic is only going to increase, and it’s past time we began dealing with alternatives.

Rather than complaining or sticking our heads in the sand, the question should be: Why isn’t the Pulse more ambitious? Apparently planners have given little thought to how the 14 stops will connect with existing GRTC lines.

But let’s quit squabbling and get on the bus. Surely the city that introduced one of the first electric streetcar systems to the world in 1888 can reacquaint itself with public transit.

One major challenge will be how the system navigates the tight and busy intersection of East Broad and 14th streets near the interstate highway ramps, Virginia Commonwealth University’s Medical Center and government buildings. It’s already overly congested.

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The GRTC Transfer Plaza

In light of the international bicycle event and with anticipated construction next year on Broad Street for the Pulse, GRTC buses were rerouted to a desolate stretch of North Ninth and East Leigh streets, the Temporary Transfer Plaza. It’s good that temporary is in the name but it’s unsatisfactory because of the linear way in which buses are parked. There’s a three-block walk in some cases to transfer lines.

But the location is excellent. It’s within a few blocks of the Capitol, City Hall and other major city, state and city and federal office buildings. The Virginia Bio-Tech Park, the VCU Medical Center, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, courts buildings, the Altria research complex and VCU dormitories are a stroll away. Then there are such cultural attractions as the Library of Virginia, the Valentine museum, the Museum and White House of the Confederacy, the John Marshall House and the Coliseum.

But a transfer plaza isn’t just bus parking. It takes planning for additional amenities. Why not redevelop the current surface parking lot at Marshall, Leigh, Eighth and Ninth streets — the site of the old John Marshall High School football field — and turn it into an interior plaza? It could occupy the first level of and larger multi-use structure with parking deck and offices above.

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The 17th Street Farmers’ Market

Historic Shockoe Bottom, where Richmond began, is no place for a baseball stadium or a bus transfer station. What has given the evocative area, once Richmond’s Jewish neighborhood, continuity since the 18th century is the existence of the 17th Street Farmers’ Market. Most of the market’s overhead sheds have been removed and the space awaits redevelopment. One recent design concept shows the blocks along 17th Street being developed as a broad pedestrian mall. But now that the ballpark apparently is off the table, there’s no urgency to do anything about the market. It will probably languish for a while, its fate tied to whatever happens within the nearby train shed.

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The General Assembly Building

Having acquired all the buildings facing Capitol Square, the Commonwealth of Virginia is creating a Vatican-like, protective setting for Capitol Square.

Some recent improvements are excellent. The Capitol entrance off Bank Street now connects the building directly to the financial district. Legislators no longer park their cars on the Capitol Square lawn and brick sidewalks.

But the plan to demolish the General Assembly Building in the block bounded by Ninth, Capitol, Broad and Tenth streets represents hubris on the part of Virginia’s part-time legislature.

The existing office building essentially is composed of three gorgeous landmarks, which through the years have been melded into one complex. It would be a challenging restoration, but if the old Hotel Richmond can be restored, why not the General Assembly Building?

Beaux arts and midcentury modern buildings of this quality cannot be replicated, even by so distinguished a firm as Robert A.M. Stern Architects of New York, which is the designer of the project. Why not build the General Assembly building on the lot across the street and make it a mixed-use building with parking? Only parking is planned for that block now. It could be a much taller building. Land will only continue to get scarcer in this area.

Richmond has few more architecturally sophisticated ensembles than the General Assembly building.

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The Boulevard and Ballpark

Eventually all discussions about local development swing back to North Boulevard and the fate of The Diamond. Way too much civic energy and goodwill have been wasted on arguments over the fate of baseball and a children’s hospital at that location.

Let’s continue to play ball there. It’s a part of our sports patrimony here, so why mess with it? There’s a lot to like in the ambitious plan by Glave & Holmes Architects, which the Save the Diamond group publicly unveiled Dec. 3.

It maintains and improves the ballpark itself. It ties in with the existing and adjacent Sports Backers Stadium to create the critical mass for a sports-entertainment area. And it calls for inserting mixed-use structures out to the surrounding sidewalks of the Boulevard and Robin Hood and Hermitage roads. By doing so it links with the urban density of nearby Scott’s Addition.

The mayor has called for developmental plans for this coveted site. And although financing is yet to be determined, this plan is a contender.

It’s time to play ball. S



More by Edwin Slipek

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