HELP ME UNDERSTAND: WHO’S WINNING THE SHOCKOE BOTTOM DEBATE?

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At this point, I’m not sure if we can still call it a debate. I really don’t know what to call the situation regarding Shockoe Bottom these days but the fact(s) remain that Shockoe Bottom is no closer to DOING ANYTHING than it was on that faithful day in November (2013) when Nutzy was daping up Mayor Jones claiming the end of the debate, and protesters lined the back of the crowd shouting distracting (and pretty hilarious) chants in protest.

I would argue that since that press conference in November 2013, team pro-stadium, whether that is Mayor Jones, Loving RVA, Venture Richmond, the Flying Squirrels, etc. that side hasn’t really had a good day since. They’ve continued to lose message and momentum. It’s clearly not been a winning strategy, yet. But if they’re losing, help me understand who’s truly winning.

I struggle, and have struggled a long time with who is really winning this debate and what does winning mean. I just saw the video below from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and I must say that the 3 minutes I spent watching the video did more to get me critically thinking about the history of Shockoe than any Lupita tweet. Sidebar: Has anyone ever figured out what those Lupita tweets were all about? I’ve always wondered in regards to the multitude of  opportunities in Shockoe Bottom, how do we as a community respect our ancestors, heritage, and history and yet prepare, plan, and take action for a better present and future. How does that happen? I don’t believe that can truly happen without mutual respect, meaningful dialogue, and compromise, on all sides.

So, help me understand, if stadium/development naysayers “win or get their way” what does that look like? Does that mean nothing happens in Shockoe Bottom? Am I stuck with a few decent eating spots and a few more “questionable” night clubs? And that does beg the question, where were all the protests about our sacred ground of Shockoe Bottom when they were building all those “sweet” clubs just a few blocks away from the Lumpkin’s Jail site? If status quo is acceptable,  who’s really winning? Are our ancestors currently winning?

That doesn’t mean I need a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom. I love baseball on the Boulevard. I’ve gone for years and will continue to go if it remains there. Where does that leave Shockoe? Who wins if baseball stays on the Boulevard?

I understand, I’m making very basic generalizations on a very complex topic. I get that. But I cringe when I read about all the political theater going on around this issue. It seems a little more cut and dry for me. The status quo in Shockoe Bottom does not do much to currently respect our history and heritage, it doesn’t seem to have a tremendous impact economically, it doesn’t do much of anything to move us forward with more jobs or access to meaningful food options…who does the current situation really benefit?  I think a significant heritage museum is needed in Shockoe Bottom, with or without baseball. Yet, that’s not that the current package presented. How do we get closer to progress?

I understand the history of Shockoe Bottom…therefore, to a lot of people, the current stadium proposal is unacceptable.  And on top of that, I understand that the city has significant challenges with schools, transportation, and infrastructure and maybe some of that money – from what I understand not much – can be used for general improvements. Does that transform us to a better future? It may, if we have a plan that our leaders can agree on. And yes, I use the term leaders loosely.

If I’m taking a poll now…tell me who’s really winning the Shockoe debate and how can we as a community truly move forward to a better tomorrow. I don’t have all the answers, I’m truly interested in how we make a better tomorrow. #WESEEIT

7 Comments

  • Tess says:

    Marc, long time no see! I appreciate your level-headed viewpoint, trying to parse out where we can practically go from here without getting hysterical. It’s a testament to your maturity. For me, the biggest issue before any other sides of the debate even enter into it is, why is our city in the business of ballpark-building in the first place? When we can barely maintain the existing programs and structures we have, it doesn’t make sense to me for government to abandon its basic functions for vanity projects. Thanks for thinking this through and adding a sane voice to the debate.

  • Phil WIlayto says:

    Marc – An alternative proposal for Shockoe Bottom has been out there for some time. It just doesn’t get the media attention. It involves reclaiming and memorializing a part of Shockoe Bottom, while leaving most of it available for economic development consistent with a historical district. No one wants the present situation of empty lots to continue. In fact, we’re about to launch a broad community dialogue to see exactly what Richmonders, especially those descended from the people who were once held in slavery really want to see developed on this site. Please take a moment to check it out: http://shockoebottom.blogspot.com/p/our-proposal.html You’ll be hearing more about this in the weeks and months ahead.

  • mikemetic says:

    Thanks for the dialogue Marc! As Phil mentioned above, there has been a plan in place for memorializing and honoring the area’s historical significance for quite some time. The powers that be tend to try and act like it doesn’t exist bc it doesn’t have a rash of financial incentives attached to it. I think many involved at the grass roots level do not feel that a “slavery museum” is the proper way to honor that history. I tend to agree. I think with the Black History Museum getting it’s amazing upgrade the need for a slavery museum is not specifically necessary, particularly if it’s attached to some sprawling and costly structure that will bring a variety of other problems with it to the area.

    If you combine the Sacred Ground Project plan above with the Shockoe Revitalization Strategy the city paid big money for in 2012 (located here: http://www.richmondgov.com/EconomicCommunityDevelopment/documents/ShockoeFinalDraftStrategy11_1.pdf), you have the essential pieces for respectfully and meaningfully developing the area in a way that supports RVA’s thriving artistic community and respects the area. If you start on p.15 of that document you will find a variety of positive ways to enhance Shockoe Bottom and make it a burgeoning, productive area for the RVA community. There is no mention of a baseball stadium, nor should there be. The problem is that the mayor’s office, Venture, and others do not want to acknowledge it bc there is no money to be made out of the deal on their end. Basically they are holding the funds hostage until they can find a way to make sure that they can benefit from it rather than the city as a whole benefitting.

    This is also part of the reason that there are no plans for around the current location of The Diamond. The mayor himself said that over 10,000 people from the counties come to the Diamond each week during the season. How are we not capitalizing on that? Why are we sitting around with development of the Boulevard tied to development in Shockoe Bottom? They are two separate areas and should be treated as such, not bundled together in some “take it or leave it all” scenario that the mayor’s office is currently operating from.

    Bottom line, no one is winning right now and it is not bc of a lack of a plan or ideas. It’s the same patriarchy of old money trying to make sure that they profit from what is going on in the city. Hopefully those days are coming to an end and can help move the city forward towards being a Tier 1 city that caters to all RVA residents, not just those in power with a hand in the money pot.

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  • 1 and done says:

    I’m eager to see the city make any valid effort towards redeveloping Shockoe. So far, though, it seems that the Mayor’s plan is the only one that actually has any money behind it and any chance of happening. Any alternate plans are just pixels on screens unless somebody wants to pay for it.

    Tess – Think of it as an investment that will return more money towards upkeep of the city and for the schools. That part of Shockoe is in the the flood zone, and requires a larger, city-directed project to get over that hump, or it would have been redeveloped a long time ago.

  • I want both/and. We should be able to have historic preservation AND economic development. As it is we have stasis nothing is happening. Clearly the primary interests of all involved are different & even in conflict with one another… We MUST Work towards Conciliation so that we can MOVE our community forward. We desperately need economic empowerment and our ancestors have left us a legacy whereby we can have both historic recognition & commemoration AND a path to further establish & increase our community economically.

  • Michael T. Bacon says:

    My read is that what’s at stake here is $70m of taxpayer money and control over some of the most critical uninterpreted historical space in Richmond. The fight here was to give control over that space to the Flying Squirrels and a number of well-connected private interests and spend a very large chunk of money on it. The “winners” here are anyone who wants to do something else with that space and with those funds.

    Certainly, nobody’s really winning until something good is done with that space, but sometimes blocking one plan is the only way to get something good done. We have a chance now to get in front of this thing if we can get organized. I would love to see that happen, but I’m too much of a newcomer to make it happen myself.

  • Erin Mahone says:

    Posted originally on Facebook: Until our schools are adequate and our infrastructure is sound the idea of the proposed stadium is ludicrous. Richmond goes out of its way to try and look good on the surface to outside business and funders while also going out of its way to sweep grievous injustices under the rug. It’s disgusting that any children have to attend the subpar schools in the city and that no one looks at that as an immediate violation of the citizens’ right to free and equal education.

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