An elevated ‘bridge park’ planned for RVA

To make RVA stand out, planners are working on creating an elevated park above the James River. It would be the world’s first.

Several eyebrows raised last Sunday when two people championed a “river park” in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Such a thing would be the first of its kind in the world–and it would be right here in Richmond.

Months ago, the op-ed authors, Ella Kelly and Mike Hughes (the latter, the president of The Martin Agency), originally proposed converting the old Huguenot Bridge into a park, replete with walkable path and elevated landscaping. Within days, hundreds of emails flooded their inboxes from donors, architects, landscapers, and others supporting the idea, some offering help to make it happen.

Unfortunately, existing plans to raze the bridge were already set in motion by the city. Stopping those wheels was virtually impossible. But as Kelly and Hughes wrote on Sunday, a new site is on the table.

I spoke with someone associated with the new nonprofit group BridgePark that wants to bring an elevated park stretching over the river to RVA by 2015. While not ready to make their plans public yet, they did say that the new bridge would connect downtown Richmond to Manchester.

Poring over in-house renderings with him, I saw a concept that would build upon the HighLine concept in New York. However, whereas the High Line serves as a walkway, stretching one mile atop an abandoned railroad line through the lower west side of Manhattan, the proposed river park will be a wider structure. This will allow for more diverse use (e.g. cycling, concerts, farmers markets), and will be the first bridge park in the world.

Although not finalized, the bridge will express a modern aesthetic and will use environmentally-minded materials. Organizers have even retained ten tons of the Art Deco railings from the old Huguenot Bridge for incorporation into the structure.

Bridge Park is putting together a board that will include representatives of the governor’s office, mayor’s office, general contractors, commercial developers, and others. It hopes to announce a complete design in the coming weeks.

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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

  1. Scott Burger on said:

    Sounds good. Just be ready for floods.

    What I would also like to see is wildlife corridor bridges for highways.

  2. Curtis R on said:

    What a fantastic concept. Growing up in the Bonair, I always hated that I couldn’t cross over the river on my bike. Well, you could, it just wasn’t worth the stress and constant beeping/cursing. Also, there was a 50% chance you would die. Give or take a few zeroes.

    As a cynic, this all seems a little too progressive for Richmond to pull off. Terms like “First in the world…” and “environmentally-minded materials” make this seem very cost prohibitive and politically unstable. I can practically hear the screaming complaints about costs and practicality already.

  3. Sounds great. There are a lot of really cool plans and ideas out there for Richmond with the Riverfront Plan, Capital Trail, Downtown ballpark, etc. This is another one. Would be great if even half of them actually came to reality.

  4. Lindsey on said:

    Come on, yall. The expression is “poring over,” not “pouring over” – and I won’t even get started on all the grammatical issues in that same sentence. You do a great job and your star in Richmond is certainly rising, but you need a good copy editor to take you to the next level.

  5. South Barton on said:

    it is kind of “cool,” but the whole vision and idea behind parks like high line is that you are taking a space that is unique but unused and repurposing it. Whether it is unique because it exemplifies urban beautiful decay, or because it offers to put the visiter in a different space that otherwise they could not find themselves the idea is to recycle a space. Huguenot bridge would have been such a space however its very close proximity to the new bridge seems like the park would be asking for trouble. Perhaps it would be more worthwhile to look at other spaces in Richmond under this light. The old Fulton Gas would be a my suggestion.

  6. Staunton Cottrell on said:

    Logic would dictate that they utilize the old stone piers still standing in the river from the railroad bridges that no longer exist. Perhaps the route of the old Atlantic Coast Line bridge that ran from Shops Yard near Semmes and Hull over to the Byrd Street Yard location that was just north of Brown’s Island.

  7. Um. Yes please. This might be the best idea for Richmond EVER.

  8. Stephanie on said:

    Lindsey, it’s “y’all” not “yall.” Get over yourself.

    Thank you, RVA News, for a great article!

  9. angela taylor on said:

    have you been on the streets in richmond? i think we have bigger issues to tackle.

  10. There are a great deal of small privately owned companies in Richmond trying to advance design and function. This is a great idea, maybe a smaller more controllable one is needed first. Check out these guys. They are great and are pushing the envelope locally.

  11. Rob Sterling on said:

    Grundy Park in Jersey City is similar to this concept – it doesn’t cross the Hudson to lower Manhattan, obviously, but I believe it was built on refurbished pier footings:

  12. Mike Jasp on said:

    “A privately funded foundation, The Richmond BridgePark Foundation. Designers, builders, public affairs professionals, engineers, architects, fundraisers and historians have been working with city and state officials “.

    …just watch how much faster this thing gets traction vs. all the city sponsored consultant study results. I love that riverfront plan but it will move at a snails pace. This is basically private folks saying we’ll jump in and grease the wheels here on a smaller focused project that will have a lot of bang for the buck.

    Scott Berger is already drafting up his complaints about how the evil corporations are in on this one and it will ruin Richmond forever!

    I love it. Cheers to those organizing it. It will be a great attraction…this can replace the pipeline connector from the riverfront plan.

  13. Jake Helmboldt on said:

    Just for the record, the City has no direct involvement in the bridge project, so we had no part in razing the old bridge. The bridge is in Henrico County and is a VDOT project. Also, the bridge is 1/2 complete at this time. The other half will be built where the old bridge stood. This will allow for the 10’ breakdown lanes (primarily used by cyclists.)

  14. Staunton Cottrell on said:

    Just want to correct a minor error in my suggestion to build this “bridge park” on the existing railroad piers in the river. The ACL “Shops” Yard was located near Semmes and Jeff Davis Avenue (Route 1) by the south end of the Lee Bridge, not near Semmes and Hull.

  15. A Proadka on said:

    This is an amazing concept. The 95 bridge would work perfectly, it is wide enough and up high it has awesome views. Traffic could easily be diverted to the manchester bridge. Also not sure if anyone has thought of this, but a monorail could really do wonders to transform the city.

  16. Randal on said:

    I think the Bus Rapid Transit System was placed as a temporary substitute in place for streetcars, but monorail is interesting to look at.

  17. This project sounds incredible!

  18. Beth on said:

    I’m late to the conversation but his is an interesting idea and conversation happening in many places right now. At least there are many models in other cities that may provide learning lessons and best practices. See for a discussion on this topic. It’s definitely an exciting prospect for RVA and will continue to generate a ton of excitement.

  19. Burt on said:

    Nathan: The Bridge Park is back in the news.

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