Ideas discussed about how to develop Richmond’s riverfront

A development firm with international experience spoke to the public about various ideas and considerations as they move forward with developing a plan to revitalize the riverfront. What was said? What was suggested? And what are the concerns that the public has?

Over 100 people listened on Tuesday evening at the Virginia War Memorial as members of Hargreaves Associates spoke about hypothetical plans to revitalize and rejuvenate Richmond’s downtown riverfront. It was the second public forum (highlights from the first forum can be seen here) wherein Hargreaves members presented ideas that could be implemented along the riverfront. Hargreaves Associates has worked on numerous waterfront locales throughout the world, including the United Arab Emirates and China, as well as in the U.S. in cities such as San Francisco, Cincinnati, and New Orleans.

Mary Margaret Jones, Senior Principal in Charge for the Richmond Riverfront Conception Plan, led the presentation of ideas. Her preambular comments emphasized that the presentation would merely suggest several ideas being considered, and that not all of those ideas would end up in the final recommendations; the third and final meeting of the presentation series will detail their recommendations. Jones said that the ideas presented on Tuesday were to help guide consideration “to create a conceptual design to guide the future direction” of the downtown waterfront.

Jones spoke of three approaches to refashion the riverfront:

  • Status Quo–wherein current rejuvenation and maintenance would stand
  • Remove Structure–to re-vegetate lands to “emphasize ecological aspects”
  • Expand development–to create additional access to the river, more buildings, at the expense of less vegetation.

While making a point to suggest that no one course of action is better suited than any other, it is the opinion of Hargreaves Associates that a combination of the ideas be implemented in a final plan for a downtown riverfront conception. The presentation then turned to addressing specific locales along the riverfront

Belle Isle

Thought of by many as being the centerpiece of the James River’s presence in Richmond, Jones spoke about the benefits of making Belle Isle more accessible and hospitable. Ideas included turning the existing shed on the Isle into a large picnic area, as well as installing eco-composting toilets that require no sanitary connections.

Brown’s Island

One of the more interesting ideas raised by Jones was the installation of playgrounds and/or “spraygrounds” to entice family visitation to the island. She also said that granting greater river access would make Richmonders feel more “connected” to the river. When an audience member remarked that Friday Cheers, a summer concert series, is held on Brown’s Island, Jones said that there could be a constituted area that’s multi-purpose, such as a sprayground that could be turned off so that the land could accommodate a concert foot traffic.

Mayo’s Island

Jones said that this island is very much an actual centerpiece of the riverfront. It is, however, privately owned, which makes repurposing it difficult for the city. To satisfy both plans to revitalize the island, and to make it profitable to the owners, Jones spoke of creating non-residential development. Rising between four to six stories, office and retail could help the island’s vitality, as well as make it a desirable location for both Richmonders and tourists. Jones said that creating residential development on the island would be very costly, as there would need to be an emergency road constructed leading to and from the island, which would add significant expenses.

Other notable ideas included building a skatepark on Chapel Island, as well as creating office, retail, and residential development at the Reynolds North and South locations.

Lionel Lynch of HR&A, an economic consulting firm, spoke in general terms about the how the varied use of public funding, philanthropy, and corporate sponsorship (among other methods) can pay for the significant development that many feel is best for the Richmond riverfront. He maintained that, how best to fund the projects will be determined by what type of development takes place (whether it is re-vegetation, commercial development, public park creation)

After the presentation, a lengthy Q/A took place wherein the public asked Hargreaves Associates to specify potential plans, as well as voiced concerns about aspects of the riverfront development.

One of the main concerns was the Kanawha Canal being destroyed in the process of trying to revitalize the area. Others were also concerned with how the development will diminish, if not outright destroy, aspects of the city’s history. One man was wanted to know how development would affect rare wildlife along the river.

Jones stated that voicing these concerns was one of the reasons for the public forum: so that Hargreaves can better tailor a proposal that would take these issues into account. The agency will announce its proposal at a public meeting on December 13.


photo by taberandrew

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