Tapscott to Oliver: Quit Blaming Me 

Street Talk

Tapscott to Oliver: Quit Blaming MeRRHA Takes Back Under-developed LandCelebrity Chef Has Big Plans CookingClub Makes Director's CutBeer Vaults Cave Historic Spirit

Tapscott to Oliver: Quit Blaming Me

Marty Tapscott is mad as heck and he's not going to take it anymore.

The former Richmond Police Department chief says he's tired of current commander Jerry Oliver dissing his department, taking credit for his initiatives and ducking responsibility for department woes.

Not so, says Oliver. While he has described the department he inherited from Tapscott in 1995 as neglected and demoralized, "I've never intended to demean anything that Marty's done," he says.

What's most angered Tapscott is Oliver's reaction to the department exceeding its $46.5 million budget by $5.5 million. Oliver is credited with reducing crime in Richmond, but the department has outspent its budget every year since he became chief. In a Style interview last month, Oliver said busting budgets calls attention to the need for more funding. Tapscott, now retired and living in White Plains, Md., calls that an outrage.

"Do you know where I would have been if I said I intentionally overran my budget?" he asks with rhetorical incredulity. Tapscott's also steamed by references to his 1989-1995 administration as "a 1950s police department."

"Everybody knows that community policing was introduced by my administration," he says, citing as accomplishments the opening of training and citizens' academies, a new 3rd Precinct, and a decentralized force. "There's nothing that he's done except Project Exile that we didn't try."

Oliver says he's surprised by those remarks and calls Tapscott "a nationally recognized police chief [who] built a platform of community policing" in Richmond.

Tapscott says his legacy to Oliver wasn't perfect but adds that Oliver has received more resources to fight crime. Oliver agrees and says Tapscott was "challenged with some very difficult circumstances."

"My only point is that whether those conditions that Jerry keeps complaining about were valid or not … he has been there five-and-a-half years and it's totally his responsibility now," Tapscott says. "Enough is enough."

It sounds like it is. Oliver says the department plans to honor Tapscott in March with a lifetime achievement award.

Rob Morano

RRHA Takes Back Under-developed Land

Two years ago things were shaping up on Perry Street behind the Overnite Transportation headquarters in South Side. The high-crime neighborhood with dilapidated public housing units was earmarked for change. And the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority was seemingly ready to oversee the development of 18 single-family homes. It partnered with a group called Old Manchester Development in hopes of providing low-income families in Old Manchester the chance to buy affordable, well-built homes. The first two prototype homes were built.

But today, the only evidence of Old Manchester Development's presence is two still-empty houses at 12th and Perry streets, valued, according to RRHA, at $110,000 apiece. The sign in front still reads: "Building Successful Neighborhoods a Community Development Initiative."

On Aug. 11, the Old Manchester Development group told the Richmond City Clerk's Office of its intent to revert control of the land back to RRHA.

Partners affiliated with Old Manchester Development did not return calls for comment.

"Usually when projects don't go it's because the property's not selling," says Al Bailey, director of planning and community development with RRHA.

"We couldn't do anything or move ahead until we gained control back of the site," he says. RRHA purchased 18 parcels — including those with houses at $110,000 apiece — back from Old Manchester Development for $300,000, freeing them from their contract and enabling RRHA to proceed with development plans on its own.

RRHA currently is involved with 21 initiatives throughout the city in areas like Carver, Randolph and Fulton. Some housing has been completed and awaits occupants - like the two houses on Perry Street - while much still is in construction.

RRHA should have the results of a marketing survey back in the next 90 days. The survey is likely to offer all sorts of suggestions as to what to do with the land, how it should be developed, how buyers should be targeted and how much people might be willing to pay for each one. Bailey says two different parties are negotiating to purchase the two overgrown but still new homes on Perry Street. But chances are they won't get $110,000.

Brandon Walters

Celebrity Chef Has Big Plans Cooking

Richmond chef Jimmy Sneed says he may sell his signature Shockoe Slip bistro and open one or more new restaurants here in coming months.

Asked if he'd part with The Frog and the Redneck, Sneed replied with a half-joking, "[Heck] yeah, make me an offer!"

But seriously: While Sneed says rumors of an impending sale are off-base, they're also not baseless. He's more than open to the idea of selling his famed Cary Street eatery.

"I'd like to move into a new space and get a real kitchen. I've been working for seven years in a submarine kitchen and I'm ready for something bigger," he says. "I'm seriously considering the business district for a restaurant that would do a power lunch. I would like a location that would let us do a lunch, happy hour and dinner, [with] a bigger kitchen."

Sneed says The Frog and the Redneck is a little out of the range of most lunchtime business-district diners - both in price and walking distance - and "for the last three or four years I've contemplated doing something else.

"It looks like with development going the way it is, that may come true sooner rather than later." Sneed declined to elaborate, but added he's also looking into cloning his red-meat-friendly restaurant Carnivores: "It's possible we'll open a second Carnivores-type concept."

He would not say when or where the restaurant could be opened, but have no fear of Sneed himself leaving town: "I think Richmond is a good market."


Club Makes Director's Cut

Alley Katz, Shockoe Bottom's leading music venue, is getting a big-screen makeover. And if husband-and-wife owners, Chris Gonzales and Heidi Paul, like the transformation, chances are, it's for keeps.

Recently, scouts for the upcoming motion picture "Hearts in Atlantis," approached Gonzales with a request to use the club from Oct. 16 through Nov. 3 while the cast and crew film here.

"We're just shy of signing the papers," says Gonzales. Directed by Scott Hicks, whose films include "Snow Falling on Cedars" and "Shine," the movie is based on a book by Stephen King and stars Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins recently completed Richmond filming of "Hannibal."

The filming comes just weeks after Alley Katz celebrates its 5th anniversary. Gonzales says he's not sure whether they'll take a vacation, or stick around for the fun. "It was mentioned that we may be able to be extras in it with our staff," he laughs.

"They're going to do some kind of tunnel thing," as part of the set, explains Gonzales, so the characters can "walk down the cobblestones," and look eerie. Alley Katz will temporarily cease to exist, and "The Corner Pocket" pool hall will emerge.

Plans call for the stage and the floor to be removed. That's just the beginning.

Gonzales hopes that if the changes are an improvement, he'll be able to keep them, and the set's crew won't have to restore the club to its original appearance.

Gonzales won't talk specifics but says the movie scouts have offered a price that's more than fair. "They say they're a low-budget film," he says. "But they probably laughed when we told them our figure."


Beer Vaults Cave Historic Spirit

The city's oldest beer vaults are crumbling.

And it's likely most Richmonders are as surprised by their existence as they are by their demise.

Unlike Prohibition times when the vaults simply closed down, today, they're causing tons of trouble. If they collapse, so, too, will the historic building that rests above.

The six brick tomblike rooms are buried 20 to 30 feet beneath the former park-keeper's house at Chimborazo Park in Church Hill.

Last year, Hurricane Floyd ripped open the earth around the house and prompted underground springs to swell, bricks to loosen and the porch of the old park-keeper's house to start caving in.

This has vexed city officials and members of the Association for the Conservation of Old Richmond Neighborhoods. Recently, ACORN placed the beer vaults atop its list of the city's 13 most endangered historical structures.

"We're trying to do everything we can to save it," says city architect J.P. Vaughan.

He's commissioned an engineering study to determine the extent of the damage beneath the structure and the approximate cost to fix it. With that information, he says, the city will be able to decide if it can be fixed at a reasonable price. He expects to have initial results in about two months.

Already, the brick house with columns looks forlorn with weeds sprawling around it, its porch sinking, and a straggly fence deterring the curious.

Historians say Pennsylvania brewers constructed the vaults prior to and during the Civil War. The Colonial-revival-style octagonal park-keeper's house was built around 1920. During World War II some suggested using the empty aging vaults as a bomb shelter. Prudent authorities at the time advised against it.

Kim Chen, an ACORN board member, architectural historian and Church Hill resident, suggests it may be possible to gingerly move the building to a safer site. "It's a delightful little building," says Chen. "It's been a significant part of the park, and it's a value to the neighborhood."



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