Nine More Ideas to Save Downtown Richmond

I don’t want to spoil it, but one of the ideas might involve wrestling Doug Wilder.

Jass babyRichmond got an early holiday gift when a draft of the Downtown Master Plan arrived this week. The hefty document is impressive but also weighed down by complex color-coded maps, in-depth market analysis and boring pages about economic strategy. Where’s the sizzle? The jazzy snap, crackle and pop? Come on folks… I want something I can dance to!

Among my many complaints is the absence of interactive pop-up pages, the lack of 3-D pull-out posters and the complete omission of an accompanying theme song provided as a CD single or mp3 download. I’ve seen more interesting documents packaged with a tube of prescription ointment.

Am I being ridiculous and unreasonable? Possibly. But I think the least you can expect from something so majestically monikered is a little “ZAZZ.” So here are a few more humble suggestions of ideas that SHOULD have been included but weren’t.

Please print this page and staple it to every copy of the Downtown Master Plan draft that you can find.

1. Make it big in Hollywood. If Richmond wants success—real success—then it needs to conquer the box office. We need a really good movie set in Richmond that doesn’t have anything to do with the Civil War. Pimping us as a substitute for Washington D.C. is off-limits too. Our less than spectacular cinematic track record includes “The Shadow Conspiracy,” “Hush,” “The Jackal” and “Hearts in Atlantis.” Even movies that should be huge fall flat because of the Richmond curse (see “Evan Almighty”).

We can break the cycle by only permitting the production of films that accept us for who we are: a quirky mid-sized city of smokers, drinkers and slightly deranged sociopaths. But we’ve also got Southern charm to spare and as “Steel Magnolias” and “Fried Green Tomatoes” proved, Southern charm gets asses in seats.

But let’s not limit ourselves to light, folksy dramas propped up by drawling accents and Dixie spunk. Our little metropolis has multi-genre potential. Who wouldn’t want to see Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in a car chase down Monument Avenue? A Sarah Michelle Gellar slasher flick spilling blood on Belle Isle? Or a Tom Hanks romantic comedy where he meets his long lost love at the top of Libbie Hill?

I’m convinced that once America gets to know us on the big screen, they’re going to love us. Look what “Dirty Harry” did for San Francisco. Look what “Slacker” did for Austin. And most impressively, look what “Gleaming the Cube” did for Irvine.

Folks, we could be the next Irvine. All we have to do is believe.

2. Enforce mandatory live music attendance. Just because they build it doesn’t mean people will come. Toad’s Place looks fabulous and The National promises to be equally stunning, but the only way to guarantee steady attendance for live music venues is treat rock and roll like jury duty.

Imagine this: one day a letter comes in the mail and it reads, “You have been selected to attend the Eddie from Ohio performance on December 7 at Toad’s Place. Please don’t forget to tip your bartenders.” The clubs get a full house for every performance, the artists get a lively crowd (even on school nights) and Richmond erases its reputation as a sleepy backwater that bands pass on the way to Charlotte.

3. Build more restaurant Play Places. Despite all of the bad press they get for ruining America’s health, torturing livestock and exploiting their workers, McDonald’s and Burger King sure got it right with the playgrounds. Nothing goes better with a burger and fries than a couple of runs down the corkscrew slide. It encourages physical activity and aids digestion. Local restaurants could do worse than to embrace the idea of adding jungle gyms. I’m pretty sure that if Lemaire put a pool of balls in their main dining room it would earn them a sixth star.

4. Jazz up the televised City Council meetings. Two words: reality television. I know what you’re thinking, “The machinations of local politics are already dramatic enough without applying the gimmicky conventions associated with Survivor and The Biggest Loser.” But I disagree. As much as the civic-minded citizen inside me wants to absorb every nuance of the meetings, I can’t do it. It numbs my brain. It hurts my soul.

But imagine the increase in viewers if the greatest aspects of the worst TV shows were incorporated. The possibilities boggle the mind. Members of the council battle for immunity and the conclusion of each show includes a weigh-in, a red rose ceremony and a voting off of one of the members. Any member who is kicked off has a chance to redeem themselves by singing an Elvis Presley tune while being covered in dung beetles and calf brains. If they can finish the song without vomiting—and before Marie Osmond passes out—they can stay. If not, they are forced to have sex with Flavor Flav and Scott Baio.

5. Launch the Richmond Shopping Channel. Okay, maybe that’s a really stupid idea. I was just looking for a way to work in some jokes about a channel that specialized in Richmond-centric gifts, fashions and cookware. Where else would you buy your very own First Fridays Art Wok?

6. Invent AQUA NASCAR. Stock boat racing would combine the city’s desire to utilize the James with its desire to reap more of the revenue windfall of NASCAR. The only drawback? Less fiery crashes. Dramatic as they are, drownings just cannot compete with explosions, melting rubber and men on fire.

7. Flood Shockoe Bottom and rename it “Little Venice.” This would eliminate any anxiety about future water damage and save the city millions. As an added bonus, the fact that the water reeked of peppermint schnapps and urine would only add to the area’s “European charm.”

8. Make all public water fountains dispense grape soda or sweet tea. How will this help the city? I have no idea but it would be absolutely delicious.

9. Richmond voted for a strong mayor, let’s make him prove it. Instead of boring elections, let’s hold monthly “challenges to the throne” in which ordinary citizens can challenge Doug Wilder to miscellaneous feats of strength and/or arm wrestling. Two men enter… one mayor leaves!

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Pete Humes

Pete Humes is a husband, father and writer who lives in Richmond’s North Side. He enjoys coffee and owns way too many records.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. I might have to leave my husband for the glory that is Pete Humes.

    She kids folks. YOU BETTER BE KIDDING VALERIE. — Ed./Husband

  2. Slacker is the single worst movie I have ever seen in my life.

  3. Slacker does suck. But, I am a medical doctor!

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  5. I can’t wait to take my shirt off with all my other overweight friends and get drunk watching AQUA NASCAR!! Woooooo boy! I’m gonna put a giant ass 24 on my john boat! Nothing goes together better than drinking and watersports!

    And to compensate for the lack of fire, the loser of the race gets LIT ON FIRE and the winner has to block him from reaching the water to extinguish the flames. Man this sport is really shaping up!

  6. I think you just found the perfect solution to the whole non-elected vs. elected mayor controversy.

    And I’m totally with you on the jungle gym restaurant concept. Why are restaurants wasting valuable real estate on patios when they could just dig it all down and have a big mosh pit for kids that they can’t escape from while their parents sip mojitos?

  7. in vino veritas on said:


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