City Council: a Landmark decision and the new arts district

In rare collection of unanimous votes, the City Council last night passed two major ordinances that will affect the Landmark Theater and a new arts district downtown.

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It’s the first Tuesday after the fourth Monday and I think the rare City Council meeting has thrown the regulars off. With the exception of the Thomas Jefferson High School basketball team and a baker’s dozen of EMTs, there’s nobody else here. It’s not that there’s nothing on the agenda, there’s just not much. As usual, out of 24 agenda items, ten are being continued. Still there are at least two hot button issues remaining: the final vote on the restoration of the Landmark Theater and the establishment of a Downtown arts district–something that has been around for more years than I can remember. If there’s something Richmond loves to fight about it’s support for the arts, especially big ticket items.

But let’s deal with the preliminaries first: awards and presentations.

The entire coaching staff and varsity basketball team of Thomas Jefferson High School are here to accept congratulations for winning the Colonial Tournament Championship. As usual, the Council gushes all over them. The team, on the other hand, is reluctant to take the microphone. Someone finally steps up and says, “Go Vikings.” They all march away with their tokens of appreciation.

Next up it is Richmond Emergency Medical Services (REMS) Week and a cadre of EMTs and their brass are here to represent them. Here are some REMS facts you might not know: In the past year, REMS handled 56,305 calls, 27,000 life-threatening situations, and revived 52 people without a heartbeat. I’ll have to keep that in mind the next time an ambulance screams by my window at 3 o’clock in the morning.

Kathy Graziano

That’s it for the awards docket. We’re on to the Regular Session, at least after Kathy Graziano reads the riot act. “All citizen commenters WILL speak to the paper at hand and WILL NOT use inappropriate language or insult or slander anyone.” Since she’s speaking to a nearly empty room, it seems a bit overkill, but she’s got fire in her eyes and looks like she means business. I think she’s spotted outspoken citizen Chris Dorsey (who showed up late) in the audience.

First up for a vote is the renovation of the Landmark Theater. The aging facility is to be declared surplus property and leased to the CenterStage foundation for 40 years. In addition, the city will kick in $14 million from the Capital Improvement budget for renovations to be matched by $36 million in private donations and tax credits. Marty Jewell touts the theater as the only venue in the City this is actually making money and supports the measure. Chris Dorsey disagrees and promptly has his microphone shut off as he accuses the Council of taking kickbacks. Kathy Graziano is looking quite pleased with herself. After those brief fireworks, the measure is approved 8-0 (Doug Connor is absent tonight).

And finally there is the arts district. After long arguments over the shape, size, and scope of the district, a compromise has been agreed to. There will be two arts districts, a greater one encompassing most of downtown and a smaller one—a district within a district—that will focus on marketing on the West Broad Street galleries and restaurants that comprise the First Friday Art Walk. The consensus seems to be that even an imperfect arts district is better than no arts district at all, and it is time to get the ball rolling. Notably absent are any gallery owners or representatives of Curated Culture or the Downtown Neighborhood Association. However, Art180 is here and expresses enthusiasm for the district and touts their new youth art center coming soon to Jackson Ward. When everybody is done chipping in this also passes on an 8-0 vote.

Before the evening is over, not a single nay vote will be recorded. Other measures include: $45,000 to provide transportation to families of youth offenders that now reside in facilities scattered about the region since the closing of the Juvenile Detention Center and a $10 million loan pool from Housing and Urban Development to finance affordable housing, all approved with unanimous votes.

The evening wraps up with an amusing non sequitur by John Pierce. He compares random gunfire and gravity to unfair parking tickets. “It turns out” he says, “that gravity is not just a good idea. It’s the law.” He is angry that parking enforcement is randomly handing $200 tickets along Riverside Drive in Manchester for blocking curb cuts, pointing out that none of the thousands raised have gone towards no parking signs or painted curbs. In short, he “wants his money back.” Oh, well.

Regular business is over and it’s 8pm on the dot. Pretty good when you consider we didn’t get started till 6:30pm. If President Graziano had put a kill switch on Marty Jewell’s mike, we’d have been out of here by 7:30pm.

That’s a wrap folks.

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Paul Hammond

Paul has been writing about life and politics in Richmond for 11 years. You can often find him walking his dog up and down Franklin Street and yes, he does bite, the dog that is.

11 comments on City Council: a Landmark decision and the new arts district

  1. Scott Burger on said:

    The warning signs are there for all of this investment of City dollars in theaters.

    Will citizens ever see any of it come back? Will we ever see the rescinding of the meals tax increase as PROMISED by City leaders, including City Council?

    And beyond that, it is the opportunity costs that really concern me.

  2. Zach on said:

    @Scott:

    As I hear it, Mr. Jewell’s point is sound. Since the Landmark is the ONLY revenue generating venue in the City, we need to invest in and take care of it. Have you been in those bathrooms lately? Do they strike you as “tier 1 city”?

    What opportunity costs do you speak of? How long will the work take? Who’s to say we’ll miss out on these high-grossing shows? Couldn’t we shift shows to the Carpenter theater during the work?

    Lastly, the meals tax is really the least of your worries. I DO NOT buy the idea that $6 on a $100 is what drives suburbanites away from city restaurants, or enough to make you go broke. I do understand the principle of the promise, but would ask you to summarize what you have seen the meals tax used on in the past (Centerstage?)

    Are you going to find another donor to kick in $14M?

  3. Scott Burger on said:

    The opportunity costs of better schools, parks, public transit, and neighborhoods, to name a few.

    The meals tax increase was supposed to go away after Center Stage was built. We still don’t know about Center Stage’s finances despite the pubic money that went into it.

    And yes, I have been approached by some poor guy on Broad, who asked if he was outside the CIty limits yet so he could afford a sandwich.

  4. Scott Burger on said:

    Will Center Stage and Hippodrone be receiving special ‘art district’ breaks, even though they already received so much City cash? Is that fair to other venues in other parts of the City?

  5. Chris Dorsey on said:

    This giveaway of taxpayer money was directed by Robert Mooney he is a handler and political fixer for Richmonds mega rich. Like all actions Mooney carries out he uses public dollars that result in private profit. Mooney is tied in with Richmond Federal Reserve Chair Jeff Lacker, the Ukrops,and the Gottwald family among others. Mooney uses these so called public private partnerships to take from the public to financially benefit private interests.

  6. Anon E. Mouse on said:

    I pity the fool who can’t afford an extra 30 cents for his $5 footlong.

  7. Kathleen on said:

    For once, I agree with Scott. Yes the Landmark does generate money for Richmond… but what about our education? Isn’t that something to invest in? I find it really sad that no one in the city or on the council is willing to actually take a stand for the kids. With cutting schools and increasing the student-teacher ratio… we continue to flush education down the drain. Not only are students and families fleeing to private schools, but so are the teachers! And then guess what, we all know the families move. Money down the drain for the city. Something so basic, it’s so sad the city doesn’t see it.

  8. Chris Dorsey on said:

    By the way I was there before the meeting started. The meeting may have started late however I was in chambers well before meeting came to order.

  9. You might have mentioned that Elegba Folklore Society and the Virginia Center for Latin American Art (VACLAA) were there and we spoke out about the need to ensure that the arts district encourages participation from all demographics of the city.

  10. Thank you for adding that. It’s impossible to mention everybody (or everything), but feel free to chip in with whatever you got.

  11. Chris Dorsey on said:

    The arts district? What a joke! Why is it that rich people in this city pretend that they are helping the community when they are only helping themselves to city money? This will change when the people’s representatives gain control of the government.

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