Richmond's Downtown Master Plan has always been focused around the James River. The initial design of the first public conversations made the river impossible to ignore -- it expanded the definition of downtown Richmond so that it spanned the James River, stretching into the city's old Manchester district.
The James River has been the anchor of the Downtown Plan in more ways than one. The proposed Echo Harbor development -- sitting in the river's flood plain smack in the middle of the Church Hill viewshed -- has been one of the political footballs that has kept the Downtown Plan's approval an attorney's dream. Nothing beats 24 months of billable hours.
Two years into the Downtown Plan conversation, an opportunity for a renewed dialogue was created last Thursday when Richmond businessman Elliott Harrigan paid the bill for a Project for Public Spaces-led community forum on waterfront development. Michael Martz at the Times-Dispatch has all the details on Harrigan's role in organizing the forum, and the response from some of the attendees:
Elliott M. Harrigan, a Richmond businessman and chairman of the board of commissioners at the Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority, engaged a New York-based nonprofit venture for a 90-minute presentation last week on how to create public places that will draw people to attractions along the James River.
Harrigan said he was acting as an interested city resident rather than as board chairman when he invited the Project for Public Spaces to talk about how to build the riverfront vision outlined by the new downtown master plan. He even paid the bill for the organization, though he prefers not to say how much.
"I offered to do it because I felt very strongly that this could help the city in the next step in the process," he said.
(Read Martz's entire piece on the forum here.)
RVANews was out of the gate several days before the Times-Dispatch with their coverage of Thursday's forum, and the comments threading below the RVANews story go a long way toward explaining some of the issues that sit below the waterline of the riverfront development conversation.
And Paul Hammond's Lost Art of the City blog also had some early response to the forum and its companion presentation:
There were lots of examples given on waterfront projects that enhanced public interaction with the water each other and had tremendous economic impact on their communities. Almost all of these involved public/private partnerships, mixed use developments that were part park and part private development including condos, shopping and recreation. The idea is to raise the profile of the river, lake or bay concerned to the benefit of that body of water. The more people that interact with the water, the more they value it and are willing to invest in it's protection.