Guest Opinion: The road ahead for Shockoe Bottom

The views expressed in Guest Opinions represent only those of the author and are in no way endorsed by Richmond BizSense or any BizSense staff member.

shedShockoe Bottom has come a long way since the devastating aftermath of Tropical Depression Gaston in 2004. Crime is at all time lows. We have many new restaurants that complement the traditional charm of the neighborhood, and we remain the fastest growing census tract in the city.

However, without an answer to development challenges in the newly mapped flood plain, Richmond’s oldest and most historic district will likely never reach its full potential. Under federal regulations development within the 100 year flood plain is extremely limited.

After the last planned development involving baseball imploded (for good reason) many in Shockoe Bottom were wary of the Shockoe Center concept. We have done our research on both minor league baseball and the selected developer, Highwoods Properties. Their unique solution using the concourse of the ballpark to allow emergency access to street-level buildings that are built in proper scale to the neighborhood enables Shockoe Bottom to grow within the vision of Richmond’s “Master Plan.” The Highwoods team has been very responsive and flexible to the wishes of all of the impacted neighborhoods and the recently uncovered Lumpkin’s Jail Site. They have made it a priority to create a heritage center that properly recognizes the role of the slave trade in our city. We had hoped, and continue to hope, that the Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC) would be as sensitive to our desire for both economic growth and historic preservation.

The Shockoe Bottom Neighborhood Association recommended several very important and practical changes to GRTC’s plan regarding Main St. Station as a bus transfer station.

We want to protect our pedestrian environment by restricting buses to the second floor. Equally as important we requested that the ramps leading up to the transfer station enter from north of Broad Street, sparing our 19th century streets from overwhelming bus traffic. Additionally, the ramps as currently designed, cut the Lumpkin’s site and other under-utilized properties away from the heart of Shockoe Bottom. In Al Harris’ article (Q&A: GRTC chief on a mission, April 13, 2009) John Lewis mistakenly states that one of Shockoe Bottom Neighborhood Association‘s requests is that the transfer station “would be better located somewhere west of there [Main St. Station].” We have offered no alternative locations, only simple suggestions that would make the transfer station an asset to Shockoe Bottom. Mr. Lewis may have confused our letter with GRTC’s own studies that favor other more suitable and more affordable sites. (You can read the most recent letter here.)

Also disturbing is that GRTC’s current plan may be incompatible with high-speed rail at Main St. Station. Just yesterday President Obama refocused stimulus efforts on high-speed rail with grants possibly available as soon as this year. We cannot, in Shockoe Bottom, endorse a project that threatens future development and the prospect of high-speed rail transportation.

There are other opportunities for a bus transfer center in Shockoe Bottom. There opportunities to improve on GRTC’s Main St. Station plan. GRTC, Highwoods Properties and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation need to work together now. The future of Shockoe Bottom, the city of Richmond and the region as a whole depend on it.

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These seem like legitimate concerns, although my impression is that the SBNA has also expressed concern (less officially perhaps) about the “kind” of people served by the buses not being “right” for the neighborhood. If the concerns really are more about the design, traffic issues, and the future of high speed rail, then Lewis definitely needs to respond. Some reports do leave the impression that GRTC has not coordinated with other agencies very much so far. Especially with high-speed rail, it would be a real shame if a legitimate effort to improve mass transit in Richmond compromised the city’s ability… Read more »