Dude, where’s the skate park?

There are no walls blocking the way, no tolls at the city line and no security checkpoints to clear when driving into Richmond from the suburbs.

So why don’t more people come here to take advantage of what the city has to offer?

That was the question a group of business people and academics attempted to answer in an all-day session Friday at the University of Richmond’s downtown campus.

The program, Frontier Sessions, was hosted by The Frontier Project, a Shockoe Bottom-based consulting company that specializes in leadership and strategy.

The focus session was done as part of the company’s pro-bono mission of donating 15 percent of its work to the community, said Frontier Project founder Scott Wayne. This is the first Frontier Sessions program the company has done, he said.

The panel consisted of eight people invited in and four principals from The Frontier Project.

“We did not invite the mayor’s office, or the governor’s office or Venture Richmond,” Wayne said. “It’s not that we have anything against them, it’s just that we wanted to take a completely fresh look.”

Panelists brainstormed on why people might not want to come to town, what can be done make the city more attractive for them, and at the end of the day came up with a recommendation list of things that can be done to change the behavior.

Members of the group didn’t know each other before Friday’s meeting. They were picked because they had knowledge or experience that would enhance the discussion, said Corey Dyckman, a Frontier Project principal. They were not there speaking on behalf of their companies, he said.

In a free-flowing conversation, with some nudging from Wayne, the panel was asked to name their favorite cities or describe what qualities they looked for in a city.

Judy Mejia, who heads the downtown UR campus, said Manhattan. “I love the idea that you could be shopping in the middle of the city.” She also cited public transportation, which she said Richmond is lacking.

Matt O’Sickey, who works at Tredegar, selected New Orleans, London and Shanghai, because “they are all incredibly modern, yet capture a sense of history.”

Derek Mueller, who works at Altria, believes a good city depends on the number of non-chain restaurants.

“My favorite cities are ones that have a sense of localness,” said Chris McDaniel, who works at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. “I don’t want to be on the West Broad Street of a city.”

Dyckman mentioned that the city lacks a central gathering place. Others joined in on that theme and as the conversation careened from one topic to another.

The group determined Monroe Park and other city parks are treasures but they are underutilized. They pointed out the attraction of the river downtown but said it would lure more visitors with things such as bike and kayak rentals and food concessions.

There was talk of taking Boston’s Freedom Trail model and using it here with the slave trail and other historical sites connected to the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, Civil Rights and religious freedom. Like with the Freedom Trail, the thinking was that it could be a good idea to paint a line along the route for visitors to follow.

The ideas on why people don’t come into town ranged from parking issues, safety fears, not having good central place for getting information on many of the things that are happening here, and annoyances like having to walk by street musicians who are asking for money.

A recommendation came out of that to have the city create stations for musicians on the Canal Walk and other parts of town and get sponsors to pay them to play instead of having them rely on donations.

As the day went on, the group went through various break-out sessions where they identified target groups – such as young professional women, retirees, families with children, quiet intellectuals, teenagers, outdoors types, sports enthusiasts, art lovers – and came up with strategies on how to attract them to the city.

Here are some of the recommendations the group came up with. More will be finalized in follow up meetings.

•    Ask Mayor Dwight Jones to consider building a skateboard park downtown rather than the outdoor ice rink he has proposed. The thinking is this would bring in young people and be a year-round attraction, rather than seasonal.

•    Come up with a book-of-the-month for the entire metro area. This would be something to create a common interest for people from all of the localities. This is something that is being done in Dublin, Ireland.

•    Approach GRTC about establishing a circulator that people from the suburbs could ride in to tourist attractions.

•    Create the slavery, independence and Civil War trail.

•    Get the city to issue permits for street concessions in places such as the Canal Walk and Monroe Park.

•    Find corporate sponsors to donate bicycle parking racks for the downtown river area and other parts of town.

“Our job is to make some people change their behavior in a positive way,” Wayne said.

He said his expectations for what Frontier Sessions might accomplish is tempered but “let’s say we come up with 15 recommendations and three happen. Wouldn’t that be terrific?”

Wayne said it is key that the group set its sights on small goals that can be quickly achieved with little expense.

“This is a city where people get caught up in baseball debates, which is fine, but in the meantime let’s build a skate park.”

There are no walls blocking the way, no tolls at the city line and no security checkpoints to clear when driving into Richmond from the suburbs.

So why don’t more people come here to take advantage of what the city has to offer?

That was the question a group of business people and academics attempted to answer in an all-day session Friday at the University of Richmond’s downtown campus.

The program, Frontier Sessions, was hosted by The Frontier Project, a Shockoe Bottom-based consulting company that specializes in leadership and strategy.

The focus session was done as part of the company’s pro-bono mission of donating 15 percent of its work to the community, said Frontier Project founder Scott Wayne. This is the first Frontier Sessions program the company has done, he said.

The panel consisted of eight people invited in and four principals from The Frontier Project.

“We did not invite the mayor’s office, or the governor’s office or Venture Richmond,” Wayne said. “It’s not that we have anything against them, it’s just that we wanted to take a completely fresh look.”

Panelists brainstormed on why people might not want to come to town, what can be done make the city more attractive for them, and at the end of the day came up with a recommendation list of things that can be done to change the behavior.

Members of the group didn’t know each other before Friday’s meeting. They were picked because they had knowledge or experience that would enhance the discussion, said Corey Dyckman, a Frontier Project principal. They were not there speaking on behalf of their companies, he said.

In a free-flowing conversation, with some nudging from Wayne, the panel was asked to name their favorite cities or describe what qualities they looked for in a city.

Judy Mejia, who heads the downtown UR campus, said Manhattan. “I love the idea that you could be shopping in the middle of the city.” She also cited public transportation, which she said Richmond is lacking.

Matt O’Sickey, who works at Tredegar, selected New Orleans, London and Shanghai, because “they are all incredibly modern, yet capture a sense of history.”

Derek Mueller, who works at Altria, believes a good city depends on the number of non-chain restaurants.

“My favorite cities are ones that have a sense of localness,” said Chris McDaniel, who works at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. “I don’t want to be on the West Broad Street of a city.”

Dyckman mentioned that the city lacks a central gathering place. Others joined in on that theme and as the conversation careened from one topic to another.

The group determined Monroe Park and other city parks are treasures but they are underutilized. They pointed out the attraction of the river downtown but said it would lure more visitors with things such as bike and kayak rentals and food concessions.

There was talk of taking Boston’s Freedom Trail model and using it here with the slave trail and other historical sites connected to the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, Civil Rights and religious freedom. Like with the Freedom Trail, the thinking was that it could be a good idea to paint a line along the route for visitors to follow.

The ideas on why people don’t come into town ranged from parking issues, safety fears, not having good central place for getting information on many of the things that are happening here, and annoyances like having to walk by street musicians who are asking for money.

A recommendation came out of that to have the city create stations for musicians on the Canal Walk and other parts of town and get sponsors to pay them to play instead of having them rely on donations.

As the day went on, the group went through various break-out sessions where they identified target groups – such as young professional women, retirees, families with children, quiet intellectuals, teenagers, outdoors types, sports enthusiasts, art lovers – and came up with strategies on how to attract them to the city.

Here are some of the recommendations the group came up with. More will be finalized in follow up meetings.

•    Ask Mayor Dwight Jones to consider building a skateboard park downtown rather than the outdoor ice rink he has proposed. The thinking is this would bring in young people and be a year-round attraction, rather than seasonal.

•    Come up with a book-of-the-month for the entire metro area. This would be something to create a common interest for people from all of the localities. This is something that is being done in Dublin, Ireland.

•    Approach GRTC about establishing a circulator that people from the suburbs could ride in to tourist attractions.

•    Create the slavery, independence and Civil War trail.

•    Get the city to issue permits for street concessions in places such as the Canal Walk and Monroe Park.

•    Find corporate sponsors to donate bicycle parking racks for the downtown river area and other parts of town.

“Our job is to make some people change their behavior in a positive way,” Wayne said.

He said his expectations for what Frontier Sessions might accomplish is tempered but “let’s say we come up with 15 recommendations and three happen. Wouldn’t that be terrific?”

Wayne said it is key that the group set its sights on small goals that can be quickly achieved with little expense.

“This is a city where people get caught up in baseball debates, which is fine, but in the meantime let’s build a skate park.”

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Chris Miller
Chris Miller
12 years ago

Here’s a cool creative solution for paying for bike racks. http://ow.ly/i/BlY (picture here). My only request would be to shrink the size down about half, and only accept ads that would make the public smile and appreciate their creative use of space. OK, so they could get annoying, but it’s better than no racks at all. Perhaps like a toll road – we could put up with ads at each spot until they revenue covered the initial cost, then they get removed… Kind of a pay-per-play deal to launch ASAP. I’d be happy to get some investors, and head up… Read more »

Elaine Odell
Elaine Odell
12 years ago

I am in total agreement with the group’s consensus that what Richmond (and many other US cities) lack is a central gathering place, or “town square”. Whenever I travel abroad, EVERY village, town or city has at least one, if not several “town squares” surrounded by cafes. Often there is a small park, a monument or fountain. There is ALWAYS a lot of outdoor seating, where the community gathers and does everything from visit with friends to play with kids. In any town square in Central/South America, Europe or the Middle East, you see people of all ages. Often there… Read more »

Beth Weisbrod
Beth Weisbrod
12 years ago

Bravo! There are lots of reasons to be optimistic about these changes. With the first 1/2 mile of the Virginia Capital Trail opened on Dock St. downtown, and improvements to Shiplock Park planned, and bike/pedestrian links to other downtown amenities and trails being studied, and bike racks planned for locations throughout the city, and many hands and heads working to move downtown Richmond towards vitality, we’ll succeed. Planning, coordination and follow-through (with some education and persistence thrown in) — it’s all coming together.

Charles Batchelor
Charles Batchelor
12 years ago

Good report, good ideas. Richmond has the potential of being a very “cool” city. And, these folks see a prime issue toward making that happen–Richmond needs more people downtown. Typically, the primary issues are less sexy than “the number of non-chain restaurants,” although I thought that was an especially useful and compelling insight. Take a lesson from the malls. Or, if you prefer, the churches. The United Methodist Church did a study about 10 years ago about how people selected a church. I was expecting something “sexy” such as music, family programs or outreach to be the top reason. Maybe… Read more »

Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
12 years ago

The biggest opportunity to create such public space is now before us on the Canal with the news that the Reynolds buildings will be removed and or rehabilitated for apartments. The number of apartments in the pipeline for downtown is nearly staggering, but even at 50% capacity there will be a resurgence of everyday pedestrian traffic in that area. I see a Renaissance in Richmond as this economy rebounds over the next five to ten years.

Tom Bowden
Tom Bowden
12 years ago

Here’s an extensive set of slides showing a variety of approaches to making city centers more livable. It’s focused on making the city center a welcoming place for pedestrians and cyclists. Rather than build specific purpose attractions such as skate parks or ice rinks, which commit large amounts of space and may have limited appeal, just make a safe zone and people will do what they want with it.

http://policy.rutgers.edu/faculty/pucher/

dyw
dyw
12 years ago

Where can we all participate/send in our ideas?

Frank Maloney
Frank Maloney
12 years ago

Must work towards bike lanes and bike/pedestrian only streets in certain areas. This is working well in Europe. Trucks and cars are the problem. The vehicles prevent interaction and conversation. London is trying to do this. Determine what parks, canals, roads, etc. will be the focus and start selling it to the city. Keep up the dialogue. Good luck! Frank

Corey
Corey
12 years ago

Great comments folks! We enjoyed reading your thoughts this afternoon. If you have additional ideas or want to help contribute, please shoot us an email: corey at thefrontierproject dot com

john m
john m
12 years ago

The Friends of Chimborazo Playground have a plan to put a skatepark in Chimborazo Playground, adjacent to Chimborazo Park. Contact them if you are interested in helping to make this a reality.

Spencer Hansen
Spencer Hansen
12 years ago

A skate park would probably get much more use than an ice rink, but it’d be worth touching base with the guys that do that kind of thing every day. The Friends of Chimborazo Park as mentioned above, but also try the editors of Born Ugly Magazine. They’re local Richmond skaters who are very experienced building things to skate on, over, and through. bornuglymag.com. I’m sure they’d be able to describe the likely hood of themselves and some of their readership taking advantage of that kind of project. Making this city more bike friendly is also a great idea. In… Read more »