Struggling to revive business in Jackson Ward

March 26th, 2011

DSC_0163-e1301302554770 RICHMOND, Va. —  His­toric Jack­son Ward con­tin­ues to fight urban blight, despite more than 20 years of    revi­tal­iza­tion efforts. But a poten­tial boost to this com­mu­nity may not be far away. The His­toric Hip­po­drome  The­ater, once the soul of this com­mu­nity and a cen­ter of African Amer­i­can enter­tain­ment in the 30’s, will reopen  this month as “The Hipp.” The the­ater was once a promi­nent stop for many famous African Amer­i­can musi­cians.  Ella Fitzger­ald, James Brown, and Ray Charles are just a few of the many per­form­ers who have graced the stage.

 The long waited revival of this estab­lish­ment is a wel­com­ing sight to com­mu­nity sup­port­ers and city offi­cials who  said they want to see Jack­son Ward thrive again. How­ever, some res­i­dents said efforts to save this com­mu­nity  are a lit­tle too late.

The revi­tal­iza­tion of Jack­son Ward, has been a part of Richmond’s mas­ter plan for decades and with some suc­cess, sev­eral crit­i­cal his­tor­i­cal struc­tures were suc­cess­fully reha­bil­i­tated. But, despite these accom­plish­ments the neigh­bor­hood still strug­gles to regain the vibrancy of its past.

Many build­ings still remain empty and very few com­mer­cial and retail busi­nesses have returned to the dis­trict. John Tay­lor, a plan­ner for Rich­mond Rede­vel­op­ment and Hous­ing Author­ity said the revi­tal­iza­tion of The Hip­po­drome will be the cat­a­lyst for busi­ness growth in Jack­son Ward.

The prop­erty owner, through city incen­tives has ren­o­vated the Hip­po­drome and it will be com­ing back to life and that will be the cat­a­lyst where every­thing else sur­round­ing it will come on line,” said Taylor.

Rich­mond endorsed the ren­o­va­tion con­tribut­ing $600,000 to Ronald Stallings, the devel­oper of the $12 mil­lion project.
Mary Laud­erdale works in the com­mu­nity as a manger of the Black His­tory Museum. Laud­erdale said the revi­tal­iza­tion of the Hip­po­drome gives her hope that more busi­ness is soon to come.

Hear why Mary Laud­erdale, manger of the Black His­tory Museum thinks the revi­tal­iza­tion of The Hip­po­drome was worth the wait.

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Some res­i­dents remain skep­ti­cal, con­cerned that the dam­age inflicted on this com­mu­nity is irreparable.

I was here before 95 was built,” recalls Jack­son Ward native, Leon Burton.

It dis­rupted the com­mu­nity and every­body they moved, they moved to a project devel­op­ment and that’s how they destroyed this com­mu­nity,” said Bur­ton.

Com­mu­nity mem­bers like Bur­ton, said the moral and struc­ture of this com­mu­nity suf­fered a heavy blow after the high­way plowed through it. More than 700 homes were destroyed. The sec­tion of the neigh­bor­hood that was cut off by I95, also known as North Jack­son Ward, became des­o­late. Now the RRHA wants to restore this area of Jack­son Ward.

John Tay­lor of the RRHA, explains Richmond’s renewed inter­est in the revi­tal­iz­ing North Jack­son Ward and trans­par­ently admits to poor pol­icy deci­sions dur­ing a seg­re­gated era.

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The restora­tion of North Jack­son Ward, is still pend­ing more approval from the city. Even though this por­tion of the neigh­bor­hood is just start­ing to get some atten­tion, His­toric Jack­son Ward on the other hand has been on Richmond’s agenda for quite some time.

Rich­mond gets on board to restore His­toric Jack­son Ward

Some of the key goals in the 1984 plan include:

1) Revi­tal­iz­ing Sec­ond Street
2) Com­mer­cial devel­op­ment between Sec­ond and Fourth Streets stim­u­lated by the
Rich­mond Con­ven­tion Cen­ter
3) Pub­lic improve­ments, includ­ing con­ve­nience shop­ping and per­sonal services

Now, more than 20 years later the pri­mary goals in the cur­rent Jack­son Ward revi­tal­iza­tion plan almost mir­ror those drafted in 1984. This is not say that noth­ing was accom­plished — in fact a sig­nif­i­cant amount of reju­ve­na­tion of his­toric struc­tures have taken place in the past 20 years. How­ever, these find­ings do reveal that although a sig­nif­i­cant amount of reha­bil­i­ta­tion has occurred, many of Jack­son Ward goals remain illusive.

His­toric Jack­son Ward is in a prime loca­tion. The neigh­bor­hood is in walk­ing dis­tance to Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Uni­ver­sity, The Rich­mond Con­ven­tion Cen­ter, and the down­town area, all of places that are boom­ing in busi­ness. So, why are few busi­nesses mov­ing to Jack­son Ward?

Chal­lenges to growth: Crime

Jack­son Ward still faces many chal­lenges, which threat­ens the growth of busi­ness in the com­mu­nity. Charles Fin­ley, long time res­i­dent, and pres­i­dent of the His­toric Jack­son Ward Asso­ci­a­tion said mis­con­cep­tions about crime is one of the loom­ing threats to suc­cess in this neigh­bor­hood.
“I think there’s still a lot of neg­a­tive per­cep­tions about the neigh­bor­hood that are car­ried over from the past, and peo­ple think Jack­son Ward has a lot of crime,” said Finley.

He insist that his neigh­bor­hood is much safer, than years past. Data from the Rich­mond Police Depart­ment shows that vio­lent crimes in Jack­son Ward have dropped 13 per­cent since 2005.

Right now we got an influx of col­lege stu­dents, we got more activ­ity, we got more peo­ple on the streets and that helps a lot to reduce crime and pre­vent crime,” said Finley.

Fin­ley also attrib­utes a safer neigh­bor­hood to efforts he and other res­i­dents have made.

The Jack­son Ward Asso­ci­a­tion and sev­eral of our indi­vid­u­als neigh­bors have forged excel­lent rela­tion­ships with the Rich­mond police depart­ment,” said Finley.

Neigh­bor­ing mem­bers of the asso­ci­a­tion invite law enforce­ment to com­mu­nity pro­grams and also sup­port police spon­sored programs.

They have been very good about devel­op­ing that rela­tion­ship that we need to have with the so that when we call they’ll show up,” said Finley.

Chal­lenges to growth: Vacant Buildings

Besides the per­cep­tion of crime, another deter­rent to new busi­ness is sim­ply, no busi­ness. Aban­don build­ings remain sprin­kled through­out Jack­son Ward. Which is one rea­son Rich­mond offers the Neigh­bor­hoods in Bloom (NIB) pro­gram. NIB pro­vides loans of up to $50,000 to busi­nesses who sup­port the restora­tion of his­toric neighborhoods.

The city gives every tool for the revi­tal­iza­tion — the proper zon­ing, the tax incen­tives, the tax cred­its, and small busi­ness loans,” said Tay­lor of the RRHA.

But there is some­thing they don’t offer — vision. Chaunda King, owner of Nat­u­rals Salon and Spa, said that’s exactly what new busi­ness own­ers need when con­sid­er­ing a move to Jack­son Ward.

The build­ing was dilap­i­dated when I first got here, you really had to have a vision, it was just cin­der blocks and old wood and you had to walk in basi­cally on a piece card­board to look at the build­ing, but I just saw it was very promis­ing,” said King.

From Kings win­dow the view is unat­trac­tive; her salon sits in between two aban­doned build­ings. How­ever, King is not wor­ried about the view, but rather its potential.

In the future, I look for­ward to all of these build­ings to have thriv­ing busi­nesses, you know peo­ple walk­ing through here, almost as busy as a New York street, because we have to make this some­place where peo­ple want to come,” said King.

Chal­lenges to growth: Support

Most peo­ple who live and work in Jack­son Ward share a com­mon desire for growth. Each indi­vid­ual has a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on how to get there, but most agree that revi­tal­iza­tion is vir­tu­ally impos­si­ble with­out the joint sup­port of com­mu­nity mem­bers, Rich­mond res­i­dents, and city offi­cials. Jack­son Ward Res­i­dent, Fin­ley said res­i­dents can sup­port rede­vel­op­ment by sim­ply becom­ing homeowners.

Ide­ally I would like to see it be a real res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hood with more owner occu­pied struc­tures, more fam­i­lies,” said Finley.

He said, “Young pro­fes­sion­als move in the neigh­bor­hood, but move out once their chil­dren reach grade school, and I would like to see them stay.”

Fin­ley said the City of Rich­mond also shares vital role.

The city should iden­tify what the com­mu­nity wants, in terms of retail and ser­vice and make an aggres­sive effort to bring peo­ple back down­town to pro­vide those ser­vices,” said Finley.

We don’t have read­ily avail­able some the con­ve­niences we need like a gro­cery store, even though the Kroger is about a mile up the street, there’s no drug store in the neigh­bor­hood, there’s no gro­cery store in the neigh­bor­hood — you can’t go and buy a suit in Jack­son Ward,” said Finley.

Laura Bai­ley, Owner of Ettamae’s Cafe on Sec­ond street said she wants Rich­mon­ders to look past the stereo­types and patron­ize busi­ness in this community.

We’re close to the Con­ven­tion Cen­ter, MCV, Mag­gie Walker House, Black His­tory Museum; I think Rich­mon­ders some­times don’t know what going on in their own city, but there is actu­ally a lot to do down in Jack­son Ward,” said Bailey.

The Future

Suc­cess­fully revi­tal­iz­ing the econ­omy in Jack­son Ward is a mutual chal­lenge shared among all who are touched by this com­mu­nity: busi­ness own­ers, stu­dent res­i­dents, home­own­ers and even vis­i­tors. Bur­ton, an old-timer who has lived here for more than 50 years said peo­ple should remem­ber: Jack­son Ward’s past suc­cess had less to do with eco­nom­ics and more to do with unity.

See peo­ple loved Jack­son Ward, it was a love thing — a love and if you can’t love it, just respect it — respect what is pre­cious, because this is pre­cious,” said Burton.

Map of Jack­son Ward: Hot spots and his­tor­i­cal buildings


View Jack­son Ward in a larger map

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