Capital Budget proposed at Richmond Planning Commission Meeting

Plans to craft Richmond into a tier one city dominated the proposed capital budget presented yesterday by Byron C. Marshall, the chief administrative officer for the city, at the Richmond City Planning Commission meeting.

Marshall said the city’s budget focuses on seven specific areas ranging from creating more inclusive communities and neighborhoods to working toward a more sustainable Richmond. All of the focus areas are designed to make Richmond a tier one city or a major metropolitan area within the country.

The capital budget, Marshall explained, proposes that the city invest in the riverfront. He said by making the riverfront more accessible, Richmond will attract more families to places like Belle Isle and Brown’s Island. Additionally, the city has plans to improve the Canal Walk for the same purpose of attracting tourists and bringing Richmond residents to the James River area.

Many of the highlights in the capital budget focus on bringing more private investors to Richmond to increase the value of areas that need attention. City officials are expecting investors to get good revenue in return to help fund some of the city’s other projects.

The Richmond Planning Commission also passed a motion to accept $85,000 from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to make Capitol Square greener by improving the storm infrastructure.

Rodney Poole, a member of the Richmond City Planning Commission, questioned why city officials are choosing to put less attention on the Boulevard Redevelopment Program and instead, focusing on the Shockoe Revitalization Plan.  The Boulevard Redevelopment Program would focus on redeveloping real estate along North Boulevard and could lead to a new baseball diamond for the Richmond Squirrels. Marshall explained that the Boulevard Redevelopment program would cost the city an estimated $50 million, whereas the Shockoe Revitalization Plan would cost an estimated $5 million.

Marshall said city officials hope that the development of areas such as Shockoe Bottom and projects that could include revitalizing the Landmark Theater would spur development from 17th Street to Broad Street.

 “We [city officials] would like to invest more money, but we’re constrained in some ways because we have to have enough tax base to pay the debt, and we’re not to the point where we can pay for it with cash. So that’s why we’re trying to focus on specific areas like Shockoe Bottom, the riverfront [and] the area around the Landmark theater, because we believe there are private investors who will put money into those areas,” Marshall said.

Marshall explained that with attractions like the Broadway musical, The Lion King, coming to the Landmark, selling over 80,000 tickets and bringing business for area restaurants, the city projects that by improving this venue, more shows like The Lion King will come to Richmond. The city’s proposed capital budget allots money for improving the theater’s sound system, making some structural improvements, and making the box office more user friendly by ensuring customers don’t have to stand in the rain to buy tickets.

Beyond encouraging investment in the city, the proposed budget also allocates money to developing two of Richmond’s projects, Whitcomb Court and Creighton Court.  Marshall said the city is looking to implement mixed-use development in these areas in hopes that these communities will be a place where no one can tell how much someone paid for their home. Marshall added that these new communities would be centered on schools and creating better overall environments.

Amy Howard, a member of the Richmond City Planning Commission, questioned why Whitcomb Court and Creighton Court were the two housing projects chosen for revitalization rather than some of the other possibilities.

 Marshall said Richmond city officials have talked to officials in Atlanta about their transitional process that took about 20 years to complete and, based on the responses from Atlanta officials and the dynamics of the individual projects, Whitcomb Court and Mosby Court were chosen.

 “It’s [implementing mixed-use development] easier if you can build something that people can see that they’re going to move to,” Marshall said.

The city, Marshall explained, would tear down facilities in those areas and build new housing. This, he said, would provide proof that the city will rebuild those areas and help people transition back into those communities.

Although city officials aren’t planning to implement mixed-used development in Mosby Court, they are planning to expand the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle school gym in hopes that it will serve as a community center.

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