Saturday, April 05, 2014

VCU versus St. Joe's in Baseball, April 4, 2014


One of the best entertainment values in Richmond has to be the home games of the Virginia Commonwealth University Rams baseball team. For $7 admission you can pretty much sit anywhere you want and enjoy three hours of hard fought baseball.


On April 4, 2014, the VCU Rams took on and defeated the St. Joseph's University Hawks 10 to 3 in the series opener. A major contribution to the Rams' victory came from the pitching of number 35, Heath Dwyer. The Rams were also very strong at bat.


The Rams will play the Hawks again today at 3:00pm and tomorrow, Sunday April 6th at 1:00pm. You can find the rest of the Rams schedule here. VCU's home games are played at the Diamond.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Senator Frank Ruff deploys racist term against healthcare reform

Disgusting.

From the office of State Senator Donald McEachin:
Henrico – Senator A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) today assailed the remarks of his colleague Senator Frank Ruff in referring to Marketplace Virginia, the private insurance bipartisan plan to offer health care for low income Virginians, as a “tar baby.”

Senator McEachin said, “For Senator Ruff to use an expression widely known as a racial slur was shocking, insensitive and extremely disappointing. Instead of contributing to the merits of this discussion, he resorts to old time racial epithets and dog whistles. However, every bit as dismaying is his lack of concern for the up to 400,000 low income working Virginians who would finally have the opportunity to access healthcare for themselves and their families. Instead of engaging and trying to find solutions, he has simply demonstrated his complete lack of concern for their very real needs.

“Moreover, Senator Ruff has been completely inaccurate about the Marketplace Virginia proposal. The plan contains a kill switch that will ensure that Virginia will not have to over pay and that the program’s costs will not simply escalate. For him to ignore this critical piece either demonstrates a complete lack of knowledge of the legislation which is alarming or an intentional ignorance which is truly unacceptable.

“Senator Ruff owes Virginians an apology and, as importantly, a commitment to actually read the legislation, to speak the truth about what it contains and to engage in a serious, merit and fact based dialogue to improve the lives of Virginians, the very thing he was elected to do, instead of resorting to antiquated and offensive insults."

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Baseball will not "desecrate" Shockoe Bottom


Early in the debate over whether a new baseball stadium should be built, the pro-stadium side of the debate appeared to make a critical concession to the anti-stadium side of the debate. The anti-stadium protesters asserted vigorously that a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom would somehow "desecrate" some sort of "hallowed" ground that is supposed to exist where the proposed stadium would be built. This assertion needs to be challenged: baseball, whatever else it might do, will not "desecrate" any site where a stadium might be built.

Set aside for the moment that the center of Richmond's slave trade was not in the proposed stadium's footprint. Richmond's slave trading business was centered near the intersections of Franklin and Main Streets with 15th Street, some distance to the west of the proposed stadium. Even the most ardent opponents of the "desecrating" of Shockoe Bottom by baseball have only managed to identify a single slave trading site within the footprint of the proposed stadium: the slave jail of Goodwin & Templeman on 17th Street between Grace and Broad Streets.

As slave traders went, Goodwin & Templeman were fairly small time. Nothing remains above ground at the site of their slave jail, though one of their account books from 1849-1851 has survived. This site should definitely be subjected to a thorough archeological examination prior to construction, but it is highly unlikely that anything of significance will be found.

The larger question I want to address is this: is there anything about the game of baseball that is sacrilegious or likely in any way to "desecrate" the land where it is played? "Desecration" is a pretty strong word, and is typically associated with the destruction of a consecrated building, like a church or a synagogue. The Goodwin & Templeman site isn't a church or a synagogue—it's a parking lot. Is parking a car somewhere more or less of a "desecration" then playing baseball on a site? Right now I can take my car and go park on the site of Goodwin & Templeman, but you're going to tell me that I can't play baseball there?

What exactly is it about baseball that makes it so terrible? Baseball is America's national pastime. In fact, it is the national pastime of several nations. I wonder if opponents to a stadium in Shockoe Bottom ever stopped wonder how it was that baseball became the national pastime, because it's kind of an ironic story when you consider it.

Baseball became our national pastime during the American Civil War. Before the war it was a regional game played mostly in New York state and some surrounding areas. The Civil War moved large numbers of New York troops around the United States and mixed them with soldiers from other states. The game spread through the Union Army and was even adopted by Southerners.

Baseball was the game played by the men who put an end to slavery. About 365,000 Union soldiers died during the war from injuries received in battle and diseases in camp. That's something like 1.6 or 1.7 percent of the North's pre-war population. Can you imagine today a war that took a similar percentage toll on the United States' current population? It would be like losing a little bit more than five million Americans.

In his second inaugural, President Abraham Lincoln had this to say:
Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
The young men who fought and died to preserve the Union and rid it of slavery relaxed in their off time by playing baseball. It's how the game became our national pastime. Men from all over the United States were exposed to the game as an indirect consequence of the American Civil War. When they went home, or when they went west, they took the game with them.

Since the Civil War, baseball has become for many a kind of secular religion. In the movie Bull Durham, Walt Whitman is quoted, perhaps apocryphally, as having said:
"I see great things in baseball, It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism, tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set, repair those losses and be a blessing to us."
Baseball is our national pastime. A baseball game is regarded as a significant enough event to merit the playing of our national anthem. "Desecration"? No, I think not.
People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. Oh . . . people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.” -- W.P. Kinsella, Shoeless Joe

Parking in the Bottom: another phony argument against development


Another installment in my ongoing series debunking the bogus arguments put forward by opponents of development in Shockoe Bottom. A common argument advanced by opponents is that there isn't enough parking and that traffic will be bad.

What every business owner in Shockoe Bottom will tell you is that there isn't remotely enough traffic in Shockoe Bottom. The whole point of development in Shockoe Bottom is to increase traffic--and the commerce it brings--in this blighted area.

As for parking, Shockoe Bottom is the staging point for several large festivals. Shamrock the Block (seen above) routinely drew more than 25,000 people to Shockoe Bottom. The 1st Annual Richmond Bacon Festival drew more than 17,000 people. The new stadium proposed for Shockoe Bottom would hold a paltry 7,000. If more than 25,000 people can find a place to park for a festival, then I think they can manage to find a place to park for a baseball game attracting a crowd a third of the size of festival crowds.

And that's before the construction of a new parking deck. Mayor Dwight Jones' redevelopment plan for the Bottom includes the construction of a large new parking deck. In addition, two large parking decks owned by the State of Virginia and currently used primarily for state employees during the day could be made available for public parking after 5:00 pm.

Those of us who live and work downtown and in Shockoe Bottom know that there is plenty of parking. Indeed, parts of downtown become a ghost town after 6:00 pm in the summer time, which is precisely when most baseball games would occur. Mayor Jones' redevelopment plan would provide a welcome shot of economic activity to this part of town.

Shockoe Bottom recently lost the Shamrock the Block festival--it has relocated to the growing Scott's Addition neighborhood. Business owners in the Bottom are working to replace Shamrock the Block with their own St. Patrick's Day-themed festival: Shockoe Fest. Shockoe Bottom not only wants more traffic, it is willing to fight for it.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

The Shockoe Plan and Historic Buildings


One of the most common arguments I hear opponents of Mayor Jones' redevelopment plan for Shockoe Bottom is that it will result in the destruction of priceless historic buildings. Nothing could be further from the truth. This argument is just another red herring put forward by people who oppose the mayor's plan and aren't too particular about the facts. I live in the Shockoe area of the city and I have walked--and photographed--the footprint of the mayor's proposed development project for Shockoe Bottom. I found no historic buildings.

I borrowed the map at the top of this post from the LovingRVA website. It shows the footprint of the proposed development. I found that there are four buildings in the footprint of the project that will have to be removed.

The old Loving's Produce warehouse at the corner of Grace and Ambler Streets, empty since 2007.
The most important building, and the one with the best claim to some kind of historic significance, is the old Loving's Produce warehouse at 1601 East Grace Street. The building was the headquarters for the Loving's Produce Company for more than fifty years. The company moved to Richmond's southside in 2007, and the building has sat empty for the last seven years. I have been unable to find any information on the origins of this building, but there does not seem to be any kind of historic or architectural significance to it. It is just an old crumbling warehouse. The building is still owned by the Loving family, who also own much of the footprint of the proposed redevelopment plan.

Vacant, derelict store front at 126 North 18th Street.
Next is this vacant, derelict store front at 126 North 18th Street. This building has been vacant as long as I can remember, and while it will be sad to lose the "interesting" mural on its southern wall, in the bigger picture Richmond will be able to get along without it.

The old Weiman's Bakery at 164 North 17th Street, closed since February 2013. 
The old Weiman's Bakery at 164 North 17th Street produced pretty good bread until 2013, but it has been closed now for a little more than a year. This building consists for the most part of cinder block. It is an ugly, utilitarian industrial building that no one will miss. There is nothing historic or significant about it.

Public bathrooms and enRichmond office at 100 North 17th Street.
Finally, there are the public bathrooms constructed for the 17th Street Marketplace and the enRichmond Foundation office space above them. Again, no real historic or architectural value here. I'm pretty sure Abraham Lincoln never used the bathroom here. The good people of the enRichmond Foundation would probably welcome the opportunity to relocate their office from atop these bathrooms.

That's it. Those are the buildings that would be torn down to make room for redevelopment in Shockoe Bottom.  Indeed, it is not inconceivable that the Loving's Building could be saved and incorporated into the new development, assuming the building's structure is still sound.  The other three buildings in the proposed project's footprint have zero value in historic and architectural terms.  The next time someone tells you that Dwight Jones' redevelopment plan for Shockoe Bottom is "going to destroy historic buildings," just let them know that you know that argument is a red herring.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

It's not a stadium plan; it's a development plan

A view of 15th Street looking down into what was once Richmond's slave trading district.
It's a development plan.

Richmond's single largest source of tax revenue is real estate taxes. Another large source of revenue is sales tax revenue. A large portion of Shockoe Bottom is sitting vacant and blighted--the city owns a large portion of the land to be developed, and it can't very tax itself.

The existing ball field--the "Diamond"--is over-aged and needs to be replaced. It also sits on land that is extremely valuable and could be re-developed. The Diamond is currently surrounded by wide expanses of surface parking--all could be developed into retail, residential, and mixed use, creating an ongoing source of real estate tax revenue. The retail development of this area would provide a stream of sales tax revenue and it would allow Richmonders to do more of their shopping in Richmond instead of driving out to the counties--keeping our tax money in the city.

The development plan proposed by the mayor also solves several problems in Shockoe Bottom. The highest priority is the Slavery Heritage site centered on Lumpkin's Jail and the Old African Burial Grounds. The plan prioritizes the construction of a slavery museum at Lumpkin's.

Another key part of the plan that critics never bother to mention is correcting flooding issues connected with Shockoe Creek, which will make it safe to develop surrounding properties with a hotel, grocery store, and high end apartments.

The goal of all this development is to dramatically enhance this city's tax base so the increased revenue can be spent on things like schools and affordable housing.

One of the key objections raised by critics of the plan is that somehow it will "desecrate hallowed ground." A red flag should go up when you hear this issue raised. The main supporters of this plan are African American; most of those stamping their feet about desecration are white, middle class people who live near the current Diamond. It's a hell of a thing that the African American parts of Richmond are too "historic" to get redevelopment dollars, so all the development needs to go in the white majority areas.

This building at 15th and Cary is the last known to have housed a slave market in Richmond, Virginia.
No one protested when it was turned into apartments and offices instead of a museum.
Councilman Samuels, in whose district the Diamond sits, has been desperate to stall the development plan any way he can. His latest stall tactic was to require a massive archeological dig paid for out of developers' pockets before any construction could begin. This is a red herring. Slavery in Virginia did not occur in Biblical times. We have a surprisingly large amount of information about slavery in Richmond.

Slavery was a business, and the men who conducted that business left an ample trail of evidence about their whereabouts and activities. They advertised in newspapers and were listed in city directories, the "phone books" of their day. You don't need to conduct a giant archeological dig: all you need is a copy of the city directory for 1860 and the back catalog of the Daily Dispatch and you can find the dealers in slaves. We know pretty much exactly where slaves were bought, sold, and rented.

Take a moment and look at this map, I'll wait.

As this map clearly shows, the center of Richmond's slave market was to the west of the Lumpkin's site, along 15th, Main, and Franklin Streets. The handful of sites near the proposed development ARE ALREADY BUILT OVER. I have yet to hear anyone propose tearing down any building built on a site where slaves were sold. At 15th and Main, a strip club sits on the site where slaves were once sold--I have yet to hear any complaints from stadium opponents who think that baseball--the national pastime --is a desecration. Stripping women on a slave site is apparently fine; the irony of women stripping at a location where slave women doubtless were force to strip before being sold is apparently lost on them.

This strip club at 15th and Main sits in the heart of what was once Richmond's slave trading district.
The opposition to the development plan has been extremely vocal, to the point of being shrill, but they are outnumbered by people who support the plan and who quietly want to shake things up in Richmond. The city council meeting was a study in contrasts. The "Antis" were made up of a variety of people from Richmond's counter-culture: anarchists, Occupy Richmond holdouts, various cranks, and one guy who came to speak against the Slavery Heritage site because Blacks need to "get over" slavery. Yep, that happened.

The pros were young urban professionals, small business owners, and generally people with a positive outlook who want Richmond to move forward. The owner of part of the land needed for the plan--the plot where an Exxon gas station currently sits--came forward and said emotionally that if it would help Richmond move forward he would give up his land (by which I think he meant he would sell it for a fair price).

In contrast, the "Antis" have begun resorting to threats, intimidation, harassment, and vandalism. Some of them have basically threatened a guerilla war if the development plan is approved. Their tactics speak volumes: these are the tactics of a tiny minority attempting to impose its views on the democratically elected majority.

Richmond needs development and Mayor Jones has offered us a plan. Is it perfect? Of course not--no product of human agency ever is. I think the amendments offered by Councilman Jon Baliles and Councilwoman Cynthia Newbille improved the plan. I think other improvements can be made and I'm pretty sure they will be as more people contribute ideas to the mix.

I am equally confident that any attempt by a tiny minority to impose its views on a democratically elected majority by means of a campaign of threats, intimidation, harassment, and vandalism must be opposed, and will be.

The proposed stadium site: parking lots and abandoned buildings.