Has Mayor Jones lost interest in the Riverfront Plan?

March 19, 2014 · 3 minute read

On Feb. 18th dozens of Richmond residents piled into the Virginia War Memorial to hear city planners and politicians discuss the first step in implementing the city’s much-debated, much-anticipated Riverfront Plan. The focus centered around the Brown’s Island Dam Walk, which would connect Brown’s Island to Manchester on the south side of the river via a metal footbridge designed specifically for pedestrians.

The current Vepco Levy Bridge, will be reborn as the Brown's Island Dam Walk. Credit: Phil Riggan

The current Vepco Levy Bridge (right), is slated to be reborn as the Brown’s Island Dam Walk. Credit: Phil Riggan

The meeting that night and the dam walk have drawn much press, including here at RichmondOutside.com. Mayor Dwight Jones, in a seeming indication of his seriousness of purpose regarding the Riverfront Plan, attended that public forum and spoke first. He said that while in the past the city’s riverfront has grown be default, now it will grow by design. Other speakers said it was the intention of the city to have the project completed before the World Road Cycling Championships come to Richmond in September 2015.

Makes sense, right? Supposedly hundreds of thousands of visitors will descend on Richmond. If we’re going to build this centerpiece pedestrian bridge linking the north and south banks of the river, why not have it ready for guests? (And let’s be honest, the Redskins training camp project disabused us of the illusion that large city projects have to take a long time.)

Today, however, comes the news that all those visitors, not to mention 1.2 million Central Virginians, might not find a pedestrian bridge across the river come September 2015. The Times-Dispatch’s Graham Moomaw reports that “the latest budget proposal from Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones offers no new money for the implementation of the city’s Riverfront Plant.”

Moomaw goes on to write that “in the past two budget years, the city has allocated almost $5 million in capital funds to help jump-start the Riverfront Plant…(the mayor’s press secretary Tammy) Hawley said jones pushed for the initial $5 million and that the Riverfront Plan is a priority for him.”

If so, he has a funny way of showing it. His budget for FY 2015 makes no mention of the Riverfront Plan. How to explain the mayor’s presence at the Riverfront Plan public forum in February and his stated desire to see the plan come to life and this budget proposal?

Hawley told Moomaw that the administration will be adding more riverfront money into future budgets. She also said that the city expects $2.5 million in matching funds from the state this year, which would be added to the $4 million they have on hand ($1 million of that $5 million has already been spent). The questions then become: What if that $2.5 million doesn’t come through? And, if it does, what if $6.5 million isn’t enough to get it done in time? I’ve spoken with people familiar with the planning  and implementation of the Riverfront Plan who mentioned $7.5 million as a likely minimum cost for the Dam Walk.

Here's the view from the north looking south at the existing Vepco Levy Bridge that no longer connects Brown's Island to Manchester.

Here’s the view from the north looking south at the existing Vepco Levy Bridge that no longer connects Brown’s Island to Manchester.

The James River Association is concerned. They put out a press release last week saying, in part, “Providing additional funding in FY 15 is critical to the completion of the first project under the Riverfront Plan, the Brown’s Island Dam Walk, as well as to plan other projects such as trail improvements on Chapel Island, a new public park at the Lehigh Cement site and the ‘Missing Link’ trail between Manchester and Belle Isle.”

Beth Weisbrod, Executive Director of the Virginia Capital Trail, is too. A portion of the Capital Trail just east of Great Shiplock Park is bound up in the Riverfront Plan machinations as well. “We were all shocked to learn of this,” she said.

Am I missing something? The Riverfront Plan was the result of a long, expensive process. It has broad support among Richmonders. In words, anyway, it seemed to have similar support from the most powerful politician in Richmond — Mayor Jones. Now that support is in very much in question because, while words are a good start, it’s money that builds bridges.