Did you miss Mayor Jones’s State of the City Address last night at the Carpenter Theatre? Dont’t worry, here’s the prepared speech.
Below is Mayor Dwight Jones’s prepared 2013 State of the City address, which he gave last night at the Carpenter Theatre.
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This is my 5th State of the City Address and we’ve been going about the business of improving our city and “Building the Best Richmond”. Being mission focused in this way is what will cause the businesses to come, the tourists, those coming to further their education, those coming for work, those coming to enjoy our public spaces.
So I’m here today to speak to you about our mission…our vision for building and growing Richmond.
When I look out into the audience tonight, I see community leaders, elected officials, many faces of supporters, city workers, business leaders, young people, diverse cultures…I see Richmond!
When I think about the next four years, I am convinced that the stars are aligned for our success. We are poised to do great things.
And so on the occasion of the State of the City address, I believe the state of the city of Richmond is strong and growing stronger.
When we began this journey four years ago, we did so at a challenging time…a time of economic downturn…the worst since the great depression. But we stayed focused on our strengths and we pursued opportunities to improve our city. We forged ahead in spite of the times and we’ve been willing to take the necessary risk.
Today, I know we are on the right path to our shared destiny. We’ve been mission focused…growing by design and not by default. And we’ve gotten some things done…even in this tough economic climate.
Today, the Capital city’s light has grown brighter, and it’s future – stronger, because hand-in-hand we decided that Richmond could not only be better, but we could be the best!!
We set out to build four new schools. Two elementary schools have now opened. A middle school will open in January of 2014 and high school in January 2015. We are building our city’s first new high school in forty years—the new Huguenot High School.
Overall, we’ve invested almost $200 million in new school construction.
We have aggressively pursued new economic development opportunities, while retaining and adding thousands of jobs in the city. Our bond ratings have been upgraded five separate times during the past four years…upgrades that will ultimately save taxpayers millions of dollars. We also found ways to save millions by simply changing tax collection practices as well as unwinding development deals that were not performing as predicted, such as the downtown CDA.
We’ve made advances on overdue projects, like building a new fire station, building a new Justice Center, and closed the history book on outstanding matters like the debt owed the city by the RMA. In the process, we have increased spending with minority businesses from $14 million and 6% of spending in my first year in office to $39 million and 12% of spending last year.
We’ve advanced a Riverfront Development plan that will allow Richmonders to have greater access and to take advantage of the James.
Yes, we’ve accomplished much together…but there is more work to be done.
And I’m calling on us to set Richmond on the road to long-term strength, stability, and success. As Mayor, I see a strong future within our reach. As we look ahead through 2013 and beyond, I say it’s time for us to redefine what’s possible for our City. I ask you to join me in reinventing possible….let’s write a new chapter!
If we are to accomplish this, we must look at every aspect of our City’s life: including jobs and economic development, housing opportunities and poverty reduction, education, health, and well-managed government.
JOBS AND DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS
There is the ever present challenge of creating the jobs that are needed today as well investing in the jobs that will drive our economy tomorrow.
In my budget presentation last year, I asked City Council to invest in major economic development projects that would help nurture our competitive advantages in arts and culture and tourism. Those plans included improvements to the historic Landmark Theater, the Shockoe Bottom Revitalization plans, and funds to advance our plans for riverfront development.
Increasing tourism generates revenue and jobs for our City. But beyond that – it’s an opportunity for visitors to come and share the rich history of our City. It’s an opportunity to share the pride we feel for Richmond.
The Landmark improvements have begun to yield the private investment dollars we anticipated. Altria has contributed $10 million as part of a building naming rights agreement. Dominion has contributed another $2 million for stage naming rights. We expect the expanded operations and additional visitor spending to generate an estimated annual economic impact of $6.1 million for the city of Richmond.
Plans for the Shockoe Bottom Revitalization are advancing. The request for construction bids will come out next month for the rehabilitation of the train station and we expect that project to begin in May of this year. We want our newly renovated train shed to open in time to welcome the UCI 2015 Road World Cycling Championships – an event where we will entertain a global audience of about 300 million people, all who will be focused on Richmond. As the 2015 host, we join cities like Madrid, Florence and Copenhagen. This brings us one step closer to being one of the world’s great cycling cities.
Part of the Main Street Station renovation will be a new Welcome Center for Richmond, an indoor market to augment the 17th Street outdoor market, with leasable spaces for restaurants and retail. Main Street Station will still be our multi-modal hub serving AMTRAK, MegaBus, GRTC, motor coach tours, taxis, bicycles and shuttles to the airport and hotels. But we are also going to add Franklin Street improvements to the mix.
Our plans include re-establishing Franklin Street through the Main Street Station train shed for bicycle, segway and pedestrian traffic. This area will be an accessible link once again! We’ve also funded a new streetscape for Franklin Street from 14th to 18th streets! And we’ll be recreating the 17th Street Farmer’s Market into a public square with improved community gathering spaces. The design process for the public square will begin next month.
Now I know there are lots of questions about baseball and particularly baseball as it relates to Shockoe Bottom. We are committed to building a new baseball stadium and we want to keep the Squirrels here in Richmond. Nutzy and I are still friends! With respect to a location, what I will say today is that we will make baseball decisions based on sound financial analysis, timing and the anticipated economic impact on our tax base and local economy. We will get it done.
The Riverfront is central to our plans for the city’s future. Richmond can reinvent itself by expanding the use of the James. We have plans drawn that will connect the river’s use to downtown and remove pedestrian barriers to ensure greater access. The James River is our precious gem – and we must invest in riverfront development. Developing Richmond’s riverfront brings yet another source of pride to our City and enhances tourism, recreation and economic development.
This past summer we had a wonderful Street Art Festival showcasing a collection of murals between Shockoe Bottom and Brown’s Island. The festival was organized by the city’s own Ed Trask and transformed what was basically a lot of dead space into a huge outdoor gallery. This is the kind of creative energy we want to continue to unleash in our city!
Beyond tourism, economic development and recreation, we are positioning ourselves for an enlivened port. Our port, and the industrial area adjacent to it, is woefully underdeveloped and there are huge economic development and job creation opportunities in the Commerce and Deepwater Terminal Road area. The right investments into this area will attract businesses and potentially thousands of jobs. We’ve already put money in our budget for port area improvements and we expect construction to start by the spring of this year.
These are just a few projects of the many on the horizon that will create jobs, revitalize neighborhoods and bring new life to the city.
Our Downtown is becoming more alive and vibrant, with the many adaptive reuse projects that we’ve seen, like the John Marshall and the First National Bank building which opened in recent months.
We are also presently entertaining the prospect of a new office tower downtown. If the deal works out, it will mean keeping 900 jobs Downtown, private investment of up to $100 million and an office tower between 15 and 20 stories high. And this will be new construction that we may be in a position to announce very soon.
We’ve been focused on not only attracting, but retaining businesses.
Along Broad Street – our front door – we’ve remained focused on revitalization projects for that corridor and for the broader Downtown Arts and Cultural District. You may have noticed that the Sara Belle and Neil November Theatre renovations are progressing nicely. The Morton Jewelers Artist Lofts are beautiful and will open this spring. Art180 will occupy its newly renovated building in a few months.
Great new eateries such as Pasture and Rappahannock Oyster are becoming an important part of the Downtown dining experience. And later this year the Arts and Cultural District will also see ground-breaking on a new Black History Museum at the Leigh Street Armory.
We attribute much of this success to the creative and entrepreneurial spirit of our small business and artistic community, also to our new loan programs, which are helping to bring to fruition many projects that may have otherwise died on the vine.
Another key project is the Washington Redskins Summer Training Camp development. This opportunity was leveraged to generate investment and business expansion throughout the city to the tune of an estimated $40 million. Our partnership with Bon Secours Richmond Health System includes construction of new Redskins practice fields and a sports medicine facility at Leigh Street, development of a medicine and related use property at the former Westhampton School site, and development of a medical wellness and fitness center and related use property in the East End adjacent to the Bon Secours Richmond Community Hospital site. This partnership is also going to yield an additional $6.3 million for Richmond Public Schools.
This is a world-class opportunity for us and one that I’m glad we’ve all agreed to move forward with.
Over the next eight years of the Training Camp coming to Richmond, we should maximize on this opportunity to build on sports tourism as a focus area for our city and the region. Sports tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of the global travel and tourism industry. The impact of tourism on our city, with just visitor spending, is already about $500 million a year. The impact on the region is $1.6 billion. We can increase that to our benefit in years to come, and we are positioned to do just that.
We will make the most of our spectacular location, the beauty and the history of our city and the creativity and passion of our citizens. The steps we are positioned to take over the next four years, I believe will lead to the further rebirth of downtown and position our capital city as a thriving residential, retail, and waterfront community. And many developers are consistently knocking at our door to get new projects started.
But even as we speak of the redevelopment and opportunities being generated around the city, even as the excitement grows for the things we are positioned to accomplish, we must face our own ground zero – so to speak – here in the city.
Our own focal point of measurement for our future success is inextricably tied to the success of our efforts to reduce poverty in Richmond. This is the reality of it all.
Making sure that every community shares in the Richmond we are building requires us to plan for the future in ways we haven’t dared in decades.
For decades, no one has taken an organized approach to face the issue of poverty in our city. What we’ve worked to do is bring a comprehensive focus to this issue, knowing that the answer is tied to our economic development strategies and neighborhood revitalization plans. We’ve said we aren’t going to tax our way out of tough times, but rather we are going to work to grow our way out. So our strategies are designed to expand our tax base, to be inclusive and to broaden opportunity for all.
Just last week my Anti-Poverty Commission presented me with their report.
And I want to pause to thank Councilwoman Ellen Robertson for her devoted work as Chair of that Commission. I’m pleased that we will have the continued leadership of Councilwoman Robertson who will continue to guide us and work with us on many of the recommendations.
The report underscores how many in our city have lived on an economic edge for too long. And many have fallen over the edge; over our own fiscal cliff if you will, and have been left to stay there.
The poverty rate in our city is over twice that of the metro area as a whole and several times higher than those found in the surrounding counties.
And we all know the negative consequences of those factors…those things that then themselves become causes for more poverty…high crime rates, geographic and social isolation of poor communities and strain on the social fabric.
25% of our population is classified as living in poverty according to the federal definition.
And nearly 50% of the city’s population is poor, near-poor, or at risk of falling into poverty.
Yes, 50% live on the economic edge.
Those are the stark facts…facts that have a long history, some of which are rooted in the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, the concentration of public housing in the city, destruction of working class neighborhoods by freeways, white flight, failure of metropolitan school integration, manufacturing decline, and mass incarceration.
These are harsh realities that we must face together.
We must face the fact that a substantial part of our whole population is at this very moment denied the basic necessities of life. A substantial part of our population has to struggle day in and day out.
These are people that may have never been here to the Carpenter Theater or don’t have the means to go to shows at the Landmark. Perhaps they don’t have a bike to ride or a leisure lifestyle that will allow them to enjoy the beauty of the James and the amenities that we are working to bring to our riverfront.
So, even as we make our lofty plans, we have to be certain that everyone in our city is the subject of our interest and concern.
As Franklin Roosevelt once said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
As with many Urban centers, over the past three decades, our story has been framed as “A tale of two cities”; one rich and one poor.
We’ve looked at our challenges through the lens of our discussions and policies were influenced by the framing of the issue; whether we were talking about education, housing, health care or other matters.
I believe the framing of these issues as a tale of two cities has divided us and often led to us talking at each other than truly finding sustainable solutions.
I want our new approach to be different.
I want us to frame out tale as a tale of three points of view; those well off, those in need and the other Middle class.
I believe that if we frame our policies with an increased view to include the too-long overlooked middle class in this city, then we will find common ground solutions that are truly sustainable.
The Anti-Poverty Commission recommends regional transportation as a must. We could make thousands more jobs accessible to metropolitan Richmond residents by providing effective public transportation that links the regional economy.
There are approximately 128,000 entry-level jobs that are just simply out of the reach of many city residents right now…jobs that they can’t even compete for because of lack of transportation.
And not only will this benefit those who can’t get to jobs, this will benefit all commuters, including those in the middle class, who want to function in a more environmentally sustainable system and decrease our carbon footprint.
An effective transportation system will produce regional benefits. We must find a way to bring about this change and to get other jurisdictions to join us in this effort.
I’ve just been asked to join Dr. Eugene Trani in developing a regional Logistics Round Table. I’m hoping that as the work of that roundtable begins to take shape that it helps inform and shape our larger mass transportation discussion as well.
TRANSFORMING PUBLIC HOUSING
A top-tier recommendation of the Anti-Poverty Commission is that we work to achieve the redevelopment of much of the city’s public housing stock without involuntarily displacing residents, with the aim of improving the physical and social environment of public housing residents.
The Dove Street Redevelopment will see the first 80 units completed by the 3rd quarter of this year, and another 48 by the 2nd quarter of next year. The plan is for 300 total units of redevelopment.
On the city’s east side, we have begun that process of laying the framework to de-concentrate poverty by transforming Richmond’s public housing communities.
Our vision for these communities is mixed-use housing with neighborhood amenities that most of us take for granted – like a good grocery store – and great public schools acting as anchors for these communities.
This term we are going to see progress on Creighton Court and Whitcomb Court. I’m looking for a groundbreaking on Phase 1 of our redevelopment initiative by 2014, and expect to implement subsequent phases by 2016.
We are going to finish the Hope 6 project that was started in Blackwell some years ago. We do have to wait on some HUD action, but we are keeping a focus on helping the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) get that completed.
All of these initiatives are going to be accomplished in cooperation with the Housing Authority.
We can reinvent possible for this city and we don’t have to leave things undone.
Later this week, we are announcing another effort with RRHA related to Fay Towers. We have our eye on redeveloping that 42-year-old senior housing structure. If we can leverage the opportunity in the way that we think, our efforts could lay the foundation for the larger revitalization of North Jackson Ward as the area continues to grow into a strong, healthy and sustainable community. I look forward to sharing more with you about that.
Workforce Development and Jobs are key to our efforts to be successful with poverty mitigation.
The Anti-Poverty Commission’s report noted that there are three primary pathways to poverty in Richmond and they are:
- Being unemployed or under-employed
- Being a child in a household where adults do not have a full-time job
- Being employed at low wages
Another top-tier recommendation of the Commission is that we invest more in workforce development targeted towards low-skilled and long-term unemployment and underemployed residents. They also recommend that we integrate workforce development with economic development strategies.
We began that integration when we reorganized our Community Development division and Economic Development department into one robust agency. We followed that reorganization with the establishment of our Richmond Workforce Pipeline. Our goal was to expand job training and workforce preparation activities that link people with jobs by working directly with employers.
And our Pipeline has been successful in linking participants with employment opportunities and providing the necessary training and skills to succeed.
In fiscal year 2012, we worked with more than 70 businesses and 212 participants, of whom 56% obtained employment.
The Anti-Poverty Commission has recommended that we scale up this initiative and I agree that we need to expand our program.
Early next month we are going to open an additional Workforce Development One Stop shop; downtown at 2nd and Cary Streets. We are so pleased to be bringing workforce services back to a central location where those in need of services can more easily have access to them.
This is centrally important and we will work to include additional investments for efforts related to our Workforce Pipeline in our budget this year.
We all know that education is empowering. If we want Richmond to be a healthy city, we cannot succeed without restoring the vitality of our schools.
The Anti-Poverty Commission noted that educational attainment is a stronger predictor of poverty than race. Among adults (25 and over), 41% of those in poverty in our city have less than a high school degree.
In March of last year I established the Schools’ Accountability and Efficiency Review Task Force. I did so even though the State Constitution vests the operation of our schools with the School Board. I did so because we all have a stake in what happens to our children and youth, and as Mayor, I have a responsibility to be a leading voice in this effort.
I have to call for an educational system that prepares our young people to win. I can’t just settle for a system that works just for some, while others are left behind.
The work of the Schools task force, along with the School Board is imperative to our overall success. The fact is that everything we are doing to create a bright economic future will not be sustained until we, here in Richmond, upgrade our educational system.
I’m eager to work with the new school board to achieve greatness in our schools. We will find the way to create successful models that will chart a winning direction for all of Richmond’s youth.
But we also need our State officials to deliver on the funds we would be due if the statewide Local Composite Index was an accurate measure of our ability to pay for education.
Richmond schools need to receive funding based on the city’s poverty level.
It compromises the very future of our city when we are measured as though we are as affluent as Chesterfield and Henrico, without consideration for our poverty statistics.
We will keep fighting for this needed change.
Attacking poverty also means making sure all people receive the quality health care they deserve. And we’ve begun to see some progress in the City.
The City’s infant mortality rate declined from 12.8 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2010 to a rate of 8.4 in 2011.
This is believed to be the lowest infant mortality rate in Richmond’s modern history.
The efforts of the Richmond Healthy Start Initiative along with the Richmond Health Department and other community partners all working together, helped drive down those numbers.
We are redefining possible.
The rate of teen pregnancy in the City of Richmond has dropped by 30%, decreasing from 916 teen pregnancies in 2008, to 602 in 2011.
We are also working to find ways to improve the health care delivery system in the city. There is evidence that shows that access to primary care is associated with improved quality of care and decreased medical costs.
As an outgrowth of my Blue Ribbon Commission on Health Policy, we held a health care symposium in November to focus on the health care delivery system in our city and we are engaging the broader community in dialogue about ways to attract and retain health care practitioners to live and work in Richmond.
So we are mission focused on many levels and we are taking a comprehensive and holistic approach to the issues that we need to address. The various Commissions and Task Forces we have put to work are all helping up in this regard.
Tough economic times make it difficult to address and maneuver through all the challenges that we face. It has forced us, at all levels of city government, to work smarter.
Over the past four years we have successfully reduced the costs of running city government having cut $26 million from the budget in my first year and closing budget gaps in succeeding years of $30 million, $16 million, and $23 million. And we instituted changes and reductions in response to shrinking revenues without interrupting core services.
For the upcoming budget cycle, our fiscal outlook is still challenging. The national economy continues to recover at a steady, but tepid pace. Here at home, we see things beginning to turn around and assessed real estate values are starting to rise.
But we have several expenditure drivers: increasing healthcare costs, retirement contributions, general inflationary increases, debt service expenses.
And then there are things we don’t know yet. Will there be added costs as a result of changes to the State Biennial Budget? What will be the final impact of the Affordable Healthcare Act? Will there be adjustments for Federal and/or State changes to revenue sharing programs or grants?
But based on what we do know, we are facing a budget gap of almost $30 million.
So we are presently preparing our budget and are once again looking at ways to close that gap in funding. But part of building a more secure future requires us to take on the toughest long-term challenges where we find them – and that includes the city’s budget.
It is only by making the tough decisions today that we will be able to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
I think that’s a good point to end on today, because no matter what the issue, we have the ability to make this city better for all who live here, but only if we work together.
Before I leave you tonight, I want to make a few comments about an important matter facing our country.
One week ago yesterday, I was in our Nation’s Capital for the second inauguration of our President, Barack Obama. It was a wonderful day in our country’s history, filled with ceremonial rights and celebration. And I was honored to be there as your Mayor, beginning my second term, the same as our President.
I was moved by so many things that day, but I was particularly affected by the inaugural poet, Richard Blanco. His poem “One Today” used some powerful words to reflect on the horrific tragedy that our country witnessed in Newtown, Connecticut, only a little over a month ago. In his poem, he described what we all feel as:
“the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain the empty desks of twenty children marked absent today, and forever.”
It’s heartbreaking what our nation has had to endure in the wake of gun violence and illegal guns. In Newtown, those were such tiny souls who were only at the start of their young lives.
It is distressing what our own city has had to endure related to gun violence. Every year our hearts break as we remember the victims of crime in our city as the statue “The River of Tears” in the lobby of City Hall is adorned with red ribbons.
As a father and a grandfather, I can’t imagine having to get a call like those parents in Newtown or the parents right here at home who suffer loss.
But even as the tragic examples mount, the debate fiercely continues over guns in our society.
And sitting there in Washington last week as your Mayor, on Martin Luther King Day – King, another victim of gun violence — I reflected on the awesome responsibilities of Mayors. We have to work to create jobs, balance budgets, and deliver services. But perhaps our highest responsibility is to enforce the law and to protect the people we serve.
One of the first things I did as your Mayor after taking office in 2009 was to join the national group, Mayor’s Against Illegal Guns. It’s a bipartisan group that doesn’t see the issue of illegal guns as a conservative or liberal issue; but rather it is an issue of law and order…an issue of life or death.
The fact is that criminals and the mentally ill are already prohibited by federal law from owning guns. But the problem is the enforcement of that law has been marginal at best. Criminals can buy guns as easily as logging onto the internet – or just by stopping at a gun show and not having to face a background check. And it is often Mayors who have to deal with the consequences of guns in the wrong hands or illegal guns on the streets.
One of the things I will continue to stand for this term with Mayors from around this country is that sensible gun laws have to be on the books and have to be enforced.
Public safety has to be put ahead of special interest.
A ban on assault weapons is needed. Banning armor-piercing bullets makes sense…limiting ammunition magazines is the right thing to do.
Smart gun laws can make a difference. Enough is enough.
Our mantra over the first four years was “Building a Better Richmond”.
For my second term, we’re setting our sights even higher…we are “Building the Best Richmond.”
We are building the Best Richmond because that is what we all deserve.
If we work together, we can lock in and extend any gains we make.
We can take on the tough issues and get results.
Now I may ask you to step out of your comfort zone from time to time; to take the risk with me when the right opportunities present themselves.
But if we stay united, if we work together, there is no obstacle that we can’t overcome.
Our best days are ahead. I just know it.
The stars are truly aligned in our favor and we are poised to do great things.
Thank you. God bless you.