Dear Mr. Goodwin,
You did Richmond a great favor when you saved the Jefferson Hotel. It anchors our loveliest street, starting at the State Capitol and extending to Monument Avenue. The lost treasures along Franklin Street — a consequence of poor planning, changing tastes, and lip-smacking greed — amplify the importance of those remaining structures, including the Second Baptist Church building.
The loss of Second Baptist or any remaining examples of architectural excellence within blocks of Capitol Square will degrade Richmond beyond its city limits. Are you going to undermine your positive legacy with a lasting act of vandalism?
Here are three good reasons to reconsider demolishing an irreplaceable landmark:
- 1. Once a building is gone, it’s hard to tell its stories. From the get-go, in 1820, Second Baptist Church had a goal to educate. A rare interracial congregation in antebellum Richmond, it founded the Baptist Seminary that grew into the University of Richmond. As late as the 1960s, UR held classes and operated a library in the Roman temple-style landmark you intend to demolish. Can’t you collaborate with UR, which until recently, still had a downtown campus? Consider the use to which VCU put the Jefferson’s old stables. Surely an elegant temple is worth equal consideration.
2. When you purchased the Jefferson Hotel and Second Baptist at a foreclosure sale, you knew you were buying in a protected historic district. You are bound by the same rules as every other property owner in a City Old & Historic District. Twice — in 1992 and again in 2022 — the Commission of Architectural Review denied your application to demolish Second Baptist. Yet, your wealth and power intimidated city officials into letting you have your way. This sets a terrible precedent: Different rules for different incomes.
- 3. The public isn’t buying that a billionaire let his property fall into ruin because it cost too much to maintain. Or, that it’s too expensive to restore. Or, that he can’t find a good use for it. Try issuing a Request for Proposals and you’ll be overwhelmed with creative solutions. Obvious uses come to mind: A visitors center, auditorium, theater, concert hall, restaurant, brewery, library, museum, or any combination thereof. Combined with Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits, adaptive reuse could provide you with tax relief you probably need.
Finish the job you started with the Jefferson Hotel, Mr. Goodwin. Give people another reason to visit downtown, stand in awe of a beautiful city, and admire your civic spirit.