Guest Commentary: An open letter to Mr. William Goodwin

The Second Baptist Church building at Franklin and Adams streets. (BizSense file)

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. 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. The Jefferson Hotel’s old carriage house on Jefferson Street was repurposed as the VCU Brand Center. (Courtesy of Jennie Dotts)

    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. 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.

The Second Baptist Church building at Franklin and Adams streets. (BizSense file)

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. 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. The Jefferson Hotel’s old carriage house on Jefferson Street was repurposed as the VCU Brand Center. (Courtesy of Jennie Dotts)

    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. 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.

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Frank Smith
Frank Smith
3 months ago

Let’s hope reason prevails, and we still have this magnificent building in the coming years.

Ed Christina
Ed Christina
3 months ago

“This sets a terrible precedent: Different rules for different incomes.”

Where have you been, that’s not setting a precedent that is following the rules of society.

This web site just pretty much documents that reality.

Wayne Smith
Wayne Smith
3 months ago

Agreed to boycott the Jefferson Hotel? I wonder how many of these protesting folks have stepped foot inside the Jefferson and made a purchase in 10 years. They are free to try to purchase the building themselves, maintain it, and then let it sit there to look at it.

BetsyzGardner
BetsyzGardner
3 months ago

Well said Jenny. We cannot replace these lost buildings. Still hope to find the picture of my fathers graduating class on the front steps – it was either UR or MCV. Will definitely share when I do.

Brian Glass
Brian Glass
3 months ago

I find it repugnant that Jennie Dotts calls the pending demolition of the First Baptist Church a “lasting act of vandalism.” Mr. Goodwin has spent millions of dollars to maintain and enhance the historic Jefferson Hotel. It’s one of the few 5 Star and 5 Diamond properties in the country.He is a preservationist in his own right. Since Ms. Dotts is a Real Estate Agent and preservationist, who specializes in historic properties I would suggest that she use her real estate skills to find a buyer for the property, that is willing to spend their money, and develop a project… Read more »

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
3 months ago
Reply to  Brian Glass

If these people cared about “History” they would’ve stood up against tearing all those statues down. A fake greek temple baptist church hardly makes an american town unique — but those statues very much did, no matter what you thought of of the men depicted or the motives of the folks who raised to money to make the statues. As someone from NYS who grew up thinking of the civil war as something that “fathers of a certain age” started to become interested in — I have never been all that interested in the civil war (I was always interested… Read more »

Ed Christina
Ed Christina
3 months ago
Reply to  Shawn Harper

Shawn—I’d say the concept of Satan is pretty important in Christian churches, but you ever notice how they do not have big statues of the devil in churches?

Arnold Hager
Arnold Hager
3 months ago
Reply to  Ed Christina

Seems to me you are saying the statues are of the devil and the people who erected them are therefore devil worshippers. 1 Corinthians 6:1-11. “Judgement By The Saints”

Last edited 3 months ago by Arnold Hager
Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
3 months ago
Reply to  Ed Christina

Sure. But if they HAD built statues of the Devil, long ago, it would be a “crime against History” to tear them down, no? I mean, “old is sacred” right? I mean, heck, this author is saying that because a congregation did some thing that really doesn’t matter now PRIOR to the building being built (and not because something important happened IN the building or even at the site) that it should not be torn down. If this thinking were common enough, we’d never have modern Paris, NYC or Rome — we’d just be rebuilding old, small often obsolete buildings.… Read more »

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
3 months ago
Reply to  Ed Christina

If you are not familiar, the history of the Lost Cause as a political movement is rather interesting, if depressing. It was not merely a racially charged thing, but a more mundane and depressing effort by rather mediocre members of the political and cultural elite to use narratives to further their own political ends, often over more able, capable people in the political and cultural elite — sound familiar??? People who cannot do, and cannot manage well, often use cultural shibboleths and stories to promote themselves and their own interests over people who can get things done, it is pretty… Read more »

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
3 months ago
Reply to  Shawn Harper

I mean, heck, the only reason Hissonner the present occupant of the Mayoralty is sitting in City Hall has everything to do with the use of History and nothing to do with competence or making Richmond a better place for all, or even some.

Justin W Ranson
Justin W Ranson
3 months ago
Reply to  Shawn Harper

They’re metal and concrete. They aren’t “History.” You can still read about the history in any number of books. You could argue they’re “historic,” but given their relative age and the reason most of them were erected, I’m not sure that would be “historic” in a good sense. THe Statues belong in a museum, or even more appropriately, at one of the memorialized Civil War battlefields. The Manassas Battlefield is fantastically managed and well maintained, and it is my believe that a contextualized statue garden with these statues would be a great addition.

Last edited 3 months ago by Justin W Ranson
Scott Burger
Scott Burger
3 months ago
Reply to  Brian Glass

Brian Glass, always defending the rich and powerful in RIchmond.

Ed Christina
Ed Christina
3 months ago
Reply to  Brian Glass

 It’s one of the few 5 Star and 5 Diamond properties in the country.He is a preservationist in his own right.

Yes, I’m sure he made the Jefferson a 5 Start 5 diamond property because he cares about preservation,

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
3 months ago

God, these people with their self-righteous pointy fingers — make themselves feel really important and superior by just typing words and doing precious little — often making people want to do the opposite of what they propose.

Matt Faris
Matt Faris
3 months ago
Reply to  Shawn Harper

I counted more than a dozen “you” or “your” in the guest co\mmentary/lecture. What was the point of the piece?

karl hott
karl hott
3 months ago

“It is always the right time to do what is right.” -MLK Jr.

Leon Phoenix
Leon Phoenix
3 months ago

What kind of person would destroy a beautiful historic building? Not the kind of person I would do business with ever.

Matt Faris
Matt Faris
3 months ago
Reply to  Leon Phoenix

I feel the same way about people who use fake names. And hopefully you will never need any of the medical research that this person has funded over the years.

Boz Boschen
Boz Boschen
3 months ago

If you’ve been around our Old & Historic Districts long enough, you’ve likely seen at least a handful of properties allowed to be demolished because they were allowed to fall into disrepair. The City has an obligation to enforce its legal codes and needs to institute more progressive policies for vacant and blighted properties. If our historic properties were looked over and owners incentivized to keep them in good condition, then the market would drive their use rather than disuse and disrepair. Jennie is correct that this property itself has historic value for our city’s culture and evolution, and once… Read more »