April 16, 2003 News & Features » Cover Story


People, Places & Events 

Most hopeful thing to happen to Richmond this year: The convention center

We have built it, but will they come? It’s big, intrusive and ain’t going anywhere. So let’s schedule the heck out of the place and hope that visitors will spend, spend, spend. For now, local and cultural leaders need to put themselves in hypothetical conventioneer’s shoes: What attractions will they visit? Will they walk, drive or take public transportation? And where can they find an ice cream cone? There are other questions, too. How will this bode for adjacent Jackson Ward? How quickly and effectively can the area immediately surrounding the convention center become attractive and not a fright? Hope, but also hard work, remains.

In second, you chose the move of Philip Morris USA from Manhattan, which recently banned all restaurant smoking, to Richmond, where tobacco really belongs. Nonprofit groups are anxiously awaiting PhilMo’s arrival at the former Reynolds Metals headquarters on West Broad — who will accept the largesse of the cancer-creating conglomerate? Who will refuse it? The excitement is palpable. Let’s change the Harvest Parade back to the Tobacco Festival. Everybody light up! King Tobacco is back in town.

Most powerful (unelected) person in Richmond: Jim/Bobby Ukrop

Maybe it’s the way they own their own bank, or their huge development projects such as the one they’re behind in Rocketts Landing. Maybe it’s their influence on the city’s politics, through the Coalition For A Greater Richmond, on its management, through their influence on Richmond Renaissance, and on its culture, through their association with Leadership Metro Richmond. Maybe it’s the way they still influence Richmond’s dietary habits. Whatever the reason, you overwhelmingly picked the Ukrops, and brothers Jim and Bobby Ukrop specifically, as the most powerful unelected Richmonders. These savvy businessmen and service-oriented Baptists have pushed, cajoled and inspired just about every notable development in Richmond for the past decade. And, inspirationally, they’ve done it all while continuing to produce some fine birthday cakes.

“Bobby and I have not really duplicated our interests, and that probably has made us more effective,” Jim Ukrop says. “I’m a competitor and Bobby’s a competitor, and we just want our town to be the best it can be for our children and our grandchildren.”

Most obvious sign you live in the suburbs: You drive an SUV

Suburban house? Check. Lawn tractor? Check. SUV? Check. Whether you’re hauling kids to practice, groceries to home or your own carcass a few dozen miles to the office, Style readers overwhelmingly report that nothing says “suburbs” quite like a sport-utility vehicle. (Let’s not get into all that business about fuel consumption, bodily injury and pollution, OK? And that terrorist stuff? Please.) One reader answered, “Seeing white men in tassel shoes with no socks at the gas station.” Yes, indeed. And what are they pumping gas into? Exactly.

Most important issue facing Richmond / Most ignored issue facing Richmond: Downtown development

Downtown’s traditional retail district along Broad and Grace streets is all but a memory. But in many ways downtown has never looked better. The energy center has shifted from Fifth and Broad to multiple spots — the financial district, the canal waterfront and Shockoe Slip and Shockoe Bottom. Entrepreneurs and developers are completing loft apartments and new restaurants at an impressive clip. Two grocery stores — the under-construction Kroger’s at Lombardy and Leigh streets and The Market near Tobacco Row are proof that re-population is occurring. But Monroe Ward, the area south of the Jefferson Hotel, is dishearteningly grim with its surface parking lots. The shabby ring around the convention center needs polishing. Everywhere, critical mass of mixed-uses is, well, critical.

While we’re on it, the subject of downtown Richmond has an altogether different distinction as well, as the issue you think — along with the city’s potholes — is most ignored. That’s despite the rosy-cheeked optimism of city boosters and officials waxing ebullient. We understand. After all, the convention center has opened and soon the albatross that has been 6th Street Marketplace will come down. Whew! But what’s really befitting regionalism if not a new riverside baseball diamond and performing arts complex?

Most effective elected official: Gov. Mark Warner

The Democrats take this one by a landslide, which, considering the results of the most recent Republican-controlled General Assembly session, may reflect more on the hopes of the respondents than on the objective facts of the situation. You picked Gov. Mark Warner as the most effective public official, perhaps because he has been steering the state through the shoals of the worst fiscal crisis since the Civil War while turning back the Republican tide on the estate tax.

In a close second, you chose native son Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, presumably for his highly effective stint as Richmond mayor, not for his less-successful time so far in state government. Trailing in third: Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, the lone Republican among the three, and the most successful — legislatively, at least.

Most regrettable loss to Richmond: Punchline / CSX

A few years ago we read Punchline’s ingenious fashion issue, featuring Richmonders posed naked, holding their favorite items of clothing, and promptly invited Punchline editor Pete Humes to coffee. We met near Punchline’s offices. We told him we liked that issue, and the cover of the issue right after 9-11. We still do. It’s a sad day whenever a feisty independent publication folds. Pete still writes, now for the Times-Dispatch, flagship of the media giant Media General Inc. But it’s not the same.

On an entirely different front, CSX has decided to pull out of its Richmond headquarters now that head man John Snow has been hauled into the cabinet of George W. Bush. We’ll miss CSX, one of the country’s biggest railroad lines. We’ll also miss Snow, and his breathtaking eyebrows. But be not sorrowful — our loss is America’s cartoonists’ gain.

Most beautiful view of Richmond: Church Hill

Many East Coast towns owe their names to Indian tribes — say, Tappahannock or Pawtucket, R.I. — and to aristocratic, English names like Baltimore or Charlotte. But Richmond’s name was inspired by a view.

In the early 1700s, developer William Byrd II stood at the crest of today’s Libby Hill Park on Church Hill and gazed southward. The sight reminded him of the vista of the Thames River from Richmond, a London suburb. The sweeping view of the James is still impressive but at night the James disappears and the lights of sprawling South Richmond dazzle as far as the eye can see. An equally popular and impressive view from Church Hill is looking westward from the overlook at East Grace and 22nd streets. Tourists enjoy spotting the Capitol hidden among the skyscrapers. Couples in parked cars or on the park bench enjoy making out against so dramatic a setting.

Most uninspiring public official / Most outrageous scandal: Sa’ad El-Amin

Talk about kicking a man when he’s down. Lest you forget that 6th District City Councilman Sa’ad El-Amin is a public servant working diligently to turn your tax dollars into happy investments in the city’s future, it’s not likely that local reportage of the former esquire’s travails and engagements will remind you. He’s an easy target — even if self-imposed — as an overwhelming number of your votes attest, and your choice for most uninspiring public official and subject of the most outrageous scandal.

These days, the pugnacious councilman is noticeably lip-locked. It’s too soon to tell if El-Amin’s own tax troubles will mean he’ll follow the rueful and arguably ostracizing course of forebears like Leonidas Young and Chuck Richardson, but it’s likely he won’t indulge the path of least resistance. Still, word on the street is that there are some in the U.S. attorney’s office licking their chops at the chance to put El-Amin out of politics, if not the public eye, for

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