As we take a breath and stop for a few minutes to look back on another year that’s whizzed past, it’s time to take stock of our most memorable news stories of 2014.
These are the quirky, the scandalous and most interesting stories that stuck with us among the nearly 1,000 articles produced by the tireless BizSense news crew this year. They include some of our best reporting, best writing or the most colorful characters encountered along the way over the last 12 months.
We give you, in no particular order, our 10 standout stories for 2014.
Here’s to another great year.
Meet the guy with a 7-hour commute
If your New Year’s resolution is to stop sweating the small stuff, like being stuck in traffic, let the story of Richmonder Thurmond Alford inspire you. BizSense heard about Alford after he won a radio contest for having the worst commute among D.C. area workers. It’s hard to top his round-trip, seven-hour, 240-mile commute five days a week from Chesterfield County to D.C. The commute couldn’t get much worse, but Alford’s positive attitude about it is enough to make Short Pump traffic seem like a breeze.
The money game: Dollars, cents, swooshes
Our reporter Burl Rolett loves breaking down the numbers involved in the business of college sports. As VCU’s men’s basketball team readied itself for another run into March Madness earlier this year, Rolett wanted to find out if the team’s success has translated into lucrative apparel deals enjoyed by other big-name schools. Follow the numbers to see how the money from Nike, Adidas and other brands end up at VCU and other schools around the state.
$160 million water park complex proposed for Chesterfield
Guys like Steve Uphoff are what make being a business reporter fun. He’s got the gumption to take big risks and the means to do it with a fortune built on local convenience stores. His latest venture is a $160 million water park, hotel and convention center project in Chesterfield County next to his $20 million bowling alley. And with a team of Chinese backers, he plans to take both concepts global. The total potential price tag worldwide: upwards of $4 billion.
‘Cash is heavy’
Every now and a then it’s good to be reminded that truth is stranger than fiction. We can thank the saga of Billy G. Jefferson Jr., a once prominent local landlord and developer, for giving us that reminder in 2014. His scandal involving using his brother’s identity, high-rolling trips to Vegas and allegations of a plan to bury his cash in camouflaged PVC pipes showed us this year the lengths people will go to when they’re desperate.
Thefts dent armored car company revenue
Staying on the subject of how far people will go for money, Richmond got a dose of international intrigue thanks to a brazen caper in South America that took a chunk out of the bottom line of locally based armored car giant Brink’s. The company has been hit by Hollywood-esque heists in the past, but its latest incidents in Chile highlight how dangerous the cash game can get and left open the question of whether it was an inside job.
California brewery considering RVA
In case you haven’t heard, Stone Brewing is coming to Richmond. Before the process to build the company’s massive brewery here got bogged down in the usual political minutia, this story in June got the narrative going when the idea for Stone’s arrival was simply an exciting possibility for the region. The debate over government’s place in “economic development” continues into the New Year.
A fruitful deal for local CEO
Downtown-based Apple REIT has always been a fascinating company to follow. With founder Glade Knight at the helm, it has built an empire of billion-dollar funds and a cache of hotels across the U.S. When the company decided to combine three of its funds in the spring and take early steps toward potentially going public, a pair of disgruntled investors called foul, in part because of the potential $100 million-plus windfall Knight stands to gain.
Long-dormant mall site could bloom again
One of our biggest scoops of the year was digging up the plans an Atlanta developer has for the former Azalea Mall site. The company wants to build a town center-type development there, but it may hinge on landing a deal with one of the area’s biggest grocery chains. It’s another project to watch in 2015.
Woodworkers kick-start speaker brand online
Our reporter Michael Thompson wanted to find out why and how local companies are increasingly looking to online crowdfunding to get off the ground. In the process, he found three cool companies and groups of entrepreneurs, including a startup that makes stereo speakers out of reclaimed wood.
Slave Pit Inc.: Metal band feeds its following
Finally, a story on one of Richmond’s longest standing exports – the rock band Gwar. Known for spewing fake bodily fluids on its concertgoers, the band is now getting into the food business by teaming with established restaurateurs to open GWARbar in Jackson Ward. It’s the latest venture in their Slave Pit Inc., a series of businesses that supports band members present and past.