Full steam ahead

The City of Richmond has a bold plan to revitalize Shockoe Bottom with a $70 million renovation to the train shed at Main Street Station.

Mayor Dwight Jones and his staff on Tuesday unveiled the centerpiece of the city’s strategy to induce economic growth in the historic neighborhood.

“We envision Shockoe as a tourism gateway,” said Jeannie Welliver, project manager for the department of economic and community development. “It’s just waiting to be that.”

The two-story concourse, which extends behind the main building of Main Street Station, would be redesigned to become a travel and welcome center and a space for yet-to-be-determined tenants.

The almost $70 million project will be mostly paid for by federal funds, Welliver said.

Construction is slated to start in June, with the grand opening planned for 2014. The project is under design by locally based SMBW Architects and Williams Jackson Ewing, the Baltimore-based firm that designed the restorations of Grand Central Station in New York and Union Station in Washington.

As part of the renovation, East Franklin Street will be extended through the structure, allowing traffic to flow between downtown and Shockoe Bottom. The visitor center will also include bicycle rentals and electric vehicle charging stations, the mayor announced.

“This building is the most recognizable landmark between here and Miami,” Welliver said. “It’s the last urban memory people have going south, and we are going to use this to create an iconic gem that will captivate people to come here.”

As part of the renovations, the corrugated steel that encloses the structure will be removed and replaced with glass, creating an illuminated building that will be visible from Interstate 95.

City officials said they believe the project will be instrumental for attracting national retailers and spurring more private development.

Other elements of the revitalization plan include a branding campaign marketing the area as the creative center of the city, public safety enhancements, a revamped farmers market and financial programs to target development.

Peter Chapman, deputy chief of the economic and community development department, said one tool the city will consider using is tax increment financing, in which infrastructure improvements and incentives are funded by special taxes applied within a certain area.

“This tool is used in every virtually every state in the country and other jurisdictions in Virginia,” Chapman said. “Richmond has never used it, but we are committed to doing here in Shockoe Bottom.”

Part of the city’s goal is to draw national retailers into the area, and Chapman said the city plans to hire a retail attraction specialist to reach this goal.

“Richmond as a community is under retailed in terms of national brands,” Chapman said. “We need someone waking up every day that is focused on how to cross that divide.”

Chapman said the plan is not meant to be taken as a “silver bullet” that will eliminate the challenges faced by the area in one stroke.

“This is about heavy lifting and creating a framework that is favorable to growth and development in Shockoe Bottom,” Chapman said.

Also part of the city’s plan is an accelerator facility for startup businesses.

The accelerator is being developed by the Richmond Venture Forum and aims to provide capital, office space and advisory services to budding companies in specific industries.

“We have been working quietly with the city since early this year,” said Craig Forbes, president of the Venture Forum.

Forbes said the accelerator would consider startups in the life sciences, supply side logistic management and creative and professional services.

Unlike an incubator, accelerator companies don’t pay to be a member. They receive funding.

“If you get accepted, you get X amount of dollars of equity money invested in your company. You get a lot of talent and an advisory board. You get six to 12 months, then you are kicked out and another group applies,” Forbes said.

The ballpark amount companies would receive would start at about $25,000. About 10 companies would occupy the accelerator at a time, Forbes said.

Forbes said they are still finalizing where the accelerator will be placed in the Bottom. Once they do, Forbes said the next step would be raising money from investors to invest in companies and operate the facility.

“We are confident we can raise money,” Forbes said. “We are building this as fast as we can.”

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15 Comments on "Full steam ahead"

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Mariane
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I remember going here when they tried to make it into a shopping mall, but most of the vendors were the same motley crew you see on the sidewalks downtown and in Carytown, little statues, incense, cheap watches and jewelry, flea market handbags and T-shirts. The train station itself was like the food court for this mall.

Ben English
Guest
Sounds like this is trying to be all things to all people which is rarely a formula for success. Instead you get mediocrity. What happened to our vision of meaningful history-based tourism, capitalizing on the unique assets we have in that part of the city which give us a clear competitive advantage? Do we really need more national retail, when we have more than enough at Short Pump and Stoney Point? I like the idea of making best use of the train station – truly a unique asset – but let’s use it as the focal point of our numerous… Read more »
Stuart Squier
Guest

How about converting the train shed into a train shed and put trains and their passengers in it. I know it’s high-concept European but I think it could work.

Unicron Case
Guest
a: didnt they already try this a few decades ago and it flopped? b: ” tax increment financing, in which infrastructure improvements and incentives are funded by special taxes applied within a certain area.” that sounds alot like newspeak for tax the businesses in the bottom MORE. what happened to all that money they pull in from the increased food tax in the city of RVA? the businesses in that area are already feeling the pain of having higher taxes levied on themselves and their customers than the surrounding county. and the pain of losing business to said county. WHY… Read more »
Brian Glass
Guest
Is this deja vu all over again? Main Street Station has been restored and the results are in. Passengers prefer to go to the less than esthetically pleasing Staples Mill Station because it can take up to 30 minutes to get from Staples Mill to Main Street Station by train! So much for Main Street Station being the gateway to downtown Richmond. Let’s get our priorities in order. Until the bottleneck at the Acca yards is cleared up and trains can proceed to Main Street Station in a reasonable time frame we shouldn’t spend the money on the train shed,… Read more »
William
Guest

Stuart Squier is right on. If you want to draw people to Shockoe Bottom, make Main Street Station a fully functioning transportation hub.

Donna
Guest

Applause!!!!

Now, bring out the Paxil for the naysayers.

Scott Green
Guest

Is this the next 6th St. Marketplace?

Brett
Guest

I don’t think anyone is reading this correctly. The way I read it is they are making the shed a visitors center for the area, offering bikes and cars as transportation in order to attract retailers to the area but not in the actual train shed. I think that this is a great idea and look forward to the completion. Down with the naysayers. I know SMBW will make this a landmark the city can be proud of.

Kevin Rouba
Guest

“This building is the most recognizable landmark between here and Miami.”
What?! I hope she is talking about the train station and NOT the barn.

Brian Glass – you hit the nail on the head, clean up that bottleneck FIRST!

G Haw
Guest

I am not surprised that this has been kept quiet.
( “We have been working quietly with the city since early this year,” said Craig Forbes, president of the Venture Forum.)
What a great way for the Federal Gov to spend all of the excess money that it has.

JCB
Guest

I would rather see this money spent on the Boulevard for a massive sports complex for everyone including professional teams. It is closer to “real” tourist attractions like the VMFA, Children’s and Science Museum, Monument ave, etc. I would argue the Boulevard area could grab more tourist traffic before people head east to Virginia Beach on I-64. I guess this federal money has to be spent on urban renewal type projects instead of on soccer and baseball fields or a nice central park that people would actually use.

David D. O'Kelly, Jr.
Guest
David D. O'Kelly, Jr.

Great news. I am so glad to hear that consideration is being given to reopening Franklin Street with this proposal. I hope it will be returned to two way traffic as well. I pass through the intersection of the Franklin Street I-95 exit every afternoon and continue to curse former councilman Walter Kenny everyday for closing that street. It takes me longer to get to my home in Church Hill from that intersection because of the congestion on Main Street than it does to get from the west end on I-95 to the exit ramp.

R Sweeney
Guest

Hey, I have an idea.
Let’s concentrate low income and public housing up the hill from the innovation, cultural and entertainment area.

Then the people who live there can contribute to the culture, innovation and entertainment.
I mean, it’s working out so well for the night clubs in the Bottom.

Have a nice day!

Donna
Guest

Sweeney, excuse me, but your suburban roots are showing.

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