While continuing to study all of the information related to the Coliseum project, I was struck by a statement made by Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney during his press conference announcing that the project was finally ready to be presented to City Council. In that press conference, he said that he and his staff had spent “countless hours of hard work to ensure this project reflects the values of our city.”
While I have spent most of my time showing that the financial projections of this project are unreasonable and deceptive, the more I think on the mayor’s statement, the more it becomes clear to me that this project is the complete opposite of the values of our city.
Richmond values the unique and, thus, it is a unique and special place to live. Once you enter the city limits, there is very little that is cookie-cutter. Everything has character and a story.
That is why things like independent restaurants and breweries do so well. The people of Richmond want an experience that cannot be found anywhere else.
You can also see it in the abundance of art. Whether it be murals on buildings or tattoos on skin, there is custom artwork everywhere.
It even comes through in the people themselves. Walking around Richmond are all types of people, wearing all sorts of clothing, who are all putting themselves to work serving their fellow Richmonders. If you desire to get plugged in helping others, there are organizations and people all over the place where you can do just that.
Even when you take away the fact that the financial projections of this Coliseum project have no grounding in reality, this project is still destined for failure.
When you look at the architectural drawings of this project, you see a sterile, cookie-cutter design that could be found in any city in America. They want to remove the glass extension of the Blues Armory from the failed 6th Street Marketplace, only to build more glass buildings around the armory’s beautiful brick architecture.
They are seeking to extend the boring architecture of the VA Bio+Tech Park, which failed to stimulate economic growth north of Broad Street, further into downtown. It didn’t work with that project and it won’t work with this one.
What has worked in the city is a bunch of independent, creative Richmonders taking the industrial area of Scott’s Addition and repurposing it to make a thriving and naturally growing entertainment district. Scott’s Addition works because it takes the old soul of Richmond and combines it with the unique and welcoming spirit of its modern-day residents. All of the successful things in Richmond follow that formula.
The Coliseum project seeks to tear down and transform Richmond. Those designing this project clearly see Richmond as a stain on the region. Something that is clearly shown in the Navy Hill District Corp.’s slogan, “a downtown we all deserve.”
Who exactly is this “we” and what do they deserve?
If this project was truly what the people of Richmond deserved and was based on its values, it would seek to restore that area to its historical height. Instead of building an arena that literally any city in the country could have, it would tell the stories of the people who lived in that area through the years. With its proximity to the John Marshall House, the Wickham House and the White House of the Confederacy, it could be an area that would teach what being an urban slave was really like.
With a border on Jackson Ward, it could show what that area was like during its height. With a name like Navy Hill, it could honor the history, people, culture and contributions of those who lived there, while being treated as second class citizens by their government, before it was destroyed by public projects that were designed with the mindset of building a new downtown that certain people thought they deserved.
With a visionary plan like that, Richmond could take its rightful place as the center of black history by telling the stories that deserve to be told but aren’t. A plan like that could not only make that area a true magnet for tourism, but could serve as an inspiration to many students in Richmond Public Schools by finally giving them a place where they can see the stories of their ancestors honored, while giving them heroes to emulate.
Cities succeed when they focus on their naturally occurring unique features and when they embrace the values of the people who make their city great. This Coliseum project certainly doesn’t do that and one thing has become abundantly clear — Stoney values are not Richmond values.