Richmond is putting its money on the riverfront -- more than $6 million for a public marina alone.
But the city's quest for a marina and more parkland along the James River faces scrutiny from a skeptical City Council and developers who have other ideas how to use the land.
The council will hold a special workshop session early next month to examine Mayor L. Douglas Wilder's proposed plans for the riverfront along Shockoe Bottom, including a public marina and the purchase of at least one key property next to Richmond Intermediate Terminal.
But questions already have arisen about the location of the proposed marina, the potential costs of the city's plans and whether the key pieces are in the right place for balancing public access with economic development.
"We need a special meeting of council so we know exactly what we're getting out of it and how much money is going into it," said 4th District Councilwoman Kathy C. Graziano, who heads the land-use committee and serves on the planning committee. "This is a major commitment on the part of the city." The Wilder administration wants to ensure public access to the river, as well as a path for the Capital Trail, a more than 50-mile bicycle and recreational trail being built between Richmond and Williamsburg. It also sees the marina -- combined with an adjacent private marina proposed at Rocketts Landing -- as a catalyst for economic development and a magnet for riverfront tourism.
"It's a whole new market we've never tapped," Jeannie Welliver, project development manager for economic development, told a council committee on Tuesday.
But the price to taxpayers to make it all happen would exceed $10 million, not including the proposed purchase of adjacent land owned by Lehigh Cement Co. or a proposal in the city's draft Downtown Master Plan to make public parkland of property that is already proposed for a $160 million luxury condominium project.
"It seems to me that the whole question of the riverfront and its future is quite properly in the domain of City Council," said James W. Theobald, lawyer for USP Rocketts LLC, which has asked the city to rezone property it purchased on Dock Street for the proposed Echo Harbour condominium project.
The proposal hasn't been heard by the Richmond Planning Commission, but Wilder and city planners have raised major concerns about the project's feasibility, its effect on scenic views and public access to the river.
"We have made it clear that we're not interested in any of these high-rise apartments on the river," Wilder said after a recent public appearance.
The administration even issued a statement to make clear that the city was negotiating with the developer of the Village of Rocketts Landing, not the developer of Echo Harbour, to develop a marina at Intermediate Terminal.
The city is counting on more than $6 million in voluntary water and sewer tap fees promised by WVS Companies/CVI, the developer of the Village of Rocketts Landing, which straddles the city's boundary with Henrico County.
City officials say the money, coupled with projected sales of land owned by the city and the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, will offset most of the cost of building the 73-slip marina, a long dock for big ships, and the Capital Trail, and realigning state Route 5 as it enters the city's East End.
Richmond is talking to representatives of Lehigh Cement about purchasing the company's 1.5-acre property on Water Street between Intermediate Terminal and the property proposed for Echo Harbour.
The city wants the council to declare a public necessity to purchase the property for parkland, which includes a rail line that is proposed for conversion to a portion of the Capital Trail.
"The trail will encourage people to come down and have public access to the river," said Beth Weisbrod, executive director of the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation.
Contact Michael Martz at (804) 649-6964 or email@example.com.