What Richmond needs… and doesn’t

As a lifelong Richmonder who has previously lived and currently works in the city, I like to think I have a good handle on the state of the city’s economic and tourism growth and potential. As happens for many “born here’s,” my thoughts on what direction the city’s planning and development should take are often dismissed as the desires of someone who wants Richmond to go back to the way it used to be. Honestly, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve traveled to many U.S. and international cities, and I’ve seen the way other cities showcase their histories while also valuing innovation and new development. There are ways to balance the two and keep all the residents of Central Virginia engaged and regularly visiting the city. Here are just a few of my thoughts:

Central Market/Food Hall – I cannot, for the life of me, understand what brought the city to want to tear down the last remaining vestiges of the most recent iteration of a farmer’s market, but what now takes up the space at 17th Street is, quite literally, a travesty. There is nothing there. The covered market space has been replaced with concrete and a few scraggly trees. There are no more market vendors, and no plans for future vendors have been announced. The most recent information available from the city is from mid-May, announcing transfer of ownership to the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities.

Compare these two images. On the left is the current 17th Street Farmer’s Market space. On the right is the old First Market in the same footprint. Now take a look at what some other cities are doing:

In Charleston, South Carolina, the historic Central Market is an indoor/outdoor space with food and craft vendors that’s a central hub for eating and shopping. It’s one of the nation’s oldest public markets and is convenient to public transportation and parking.

California’s Anaheim Packing House plays on the region’s agricultural past by converting a former citrus packing building into a dual-level food hall with some specialty retail shops. A free shuttle circulates visitors between the Packing House and other local food and retail hotspots, while paid public transportation brings outside visitors to the neighborhood. Parking is available close by.

The country’s oldest continually-operating farmer’s market, Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s Central Market holds a central, prominent location in Lancaster’s downtown. With plenty of food vendors from the surrounding countryside, the market is a thriving culinary and retail hub with convenient, nearby parking.

I find it difficult to understand how city planners could think that removing the building from the site and decimating the livelihoods of the former farmer’s market vendors is worthwhile in order to have an empty, city-run space where you can have an ice rink in the winter and a night market once a month. This space could be a thriving food hall featuring multicultural dining experiences, outposts of some of the city’s best restaurants and a retail hub for local specialty retail shops, artisans and produce vendors. It could be bringing in consistent revenue for the city and providing steady employment. A building reminiscent of the original market could be built on the site and interpretive panels and plaques could be installed to provide a historical context. Public transportation and parking convenient to the market is critical. The city could work to develop partnerships with the downtown parking lots and decks to validate short-term parking tickets with a market purchase and ensure that ample public transportation options are available. In addition, Main Street Station could build out retail space to generate some additional revenue. Even a newsstand and locally-owned coffee shop would bring in foot traffic from downtown workers and would provide convenience for travelers instead of the relatively empty station currently.

Sports Complex in Scott’s Addition – The proposal to build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom should be dead and gone. The only people who seem to keep pushing for it are developers. And if you’ve lived in Richmond long, you’ve seen developers who think they have the next big thing be wrong pretty consistently (looking at you, Sixth Street Marketplace!). Any Richmonder knows that the parking for such a stadium would be a fiasco, the traffic would snarl to a standstill with the mass exodus from downtown while baseball fans are trying to come in for a game, and there’s no guarantee we won’t have another tropical storm flood out a field in such a low-lying area, causing untold damage to a field with sod, dugouts, etc.

The Scott’s Addition neighborhood has built itself organically from a blue collar commercial and residential area to a thriving hotspot filled with restaurants, breweries and all manner of fun activities, from shuffleboard to bowling to golf and more. Why not build on the organic growth and develop a sports destination visible from the interstate to draw in traffic? The Diamond needs a massive upgrade – of this I’m well aware after having attended the game years ago where chunks of concrete started falling from the roof. In New Jersey, the NFL’s Jets and Giants built a brand new stadium a few years ago in the parking lot of the old stadium, which allowed the new stadium to be built while the old one was still being used during its last season. At the end of the season, the old stadium was demolished and its footprint converted to parking.

With an existing baseball presence, a soccer and track and field complex, a training complex for an NFL team, the Arthur Ashe Center and the impending vacating of the Virginia ABC headquarters as the authority relocates to Hanover County, the entire area is ripe for redevelopment. A new baseball stadium could be built using the construction/demolition process of the Meadowlands. A stadium design incorporating elements of previous Richmond baseball fields would highlight the region’s proud baseball history, while modern tech and design elements could be incorporated into the new stadium, as well as club-level seating, a kids’ play area, etc. The Arthur Ashe Center could be replaced with a large dual-use arena that could accommodate both a D-league basketball team and ECHL or UHL hockey team, as well as concerts and other events. A free or low-cost shuttle or circulator service could easily ferry sports fans to and from the various sports venues and the surrounding restaurants, movie theater and activity venues. A multi-level parking deck could be built and local artists could design sports-themed murals for the side of the deck that could be seen from the interstate, while the electronic billboards facing I-95 could advertise upcoming baseball, hockey or basketball games or concerts. Even if the city isn’t ready to bring in both a hockey and basketball team, it wouldn’t hurt to build a new arena out with the capacity for both sports as well as live music and other events.

Public Transportation – While we’re on the subject of transportation, I’m just going to assume that GRTC has enough of a partnership with the various electric scooter companies authorized to operate in the city that it has requested heat maps of popular routes taken by the scooters, right? That’s a no-brainer to determine where future bus and/or shuttle routes are needed.

I will offer kudos to GRTC – they finally put in a route connecting the Richmond International Airport with downtown. Now they just need to offer an express shuttle service that skips all the stops in the East End and arrives downtown right near the Convention Center and the hotels in that radius of a couple of blocks. I know if my flight has just landed and I’m attending a convention downtown, I’m not really interested in stopping at White Oak Village or the Henrico Eastern Government Center. Just get me downtown quickly so I can check into my hotel and start exploring the city.

On that note, there are so many new transportation options that would enhance the ability for visitors to the city to get around and explore all the difference neighborhoods that Richmond has to offer. A trolley or shuttle bus service from the Lakeside Farmer’s Market down Lakeside Avenue to Arthur Ashe Boulevard would connect Lakeside, Bellevue and Northside neighborhoods with Scott’s Addition and the Pulse bus service. A similar service could run along Commerce Road to connect Manchester and points south to Broad Street and the Pulse bus service via the Manchester Bridge.

Navy Hill Development – I will just be blunt – no one except developers thinks this is a good idea. I happen to agree with Ben Campbell and John Moser’s column in wanting to see this area develop organically without the massive push of people with big wallets and bigger ambitions. A civics and government focused high school in the area, with partnerships with J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, the Virginia General Assembly and various state government agencies in the city, would offer a world-class education to RPS students. The surrounding area can build small-scale, walkable retail, and could even create pedestrian-only retail corridors, but this shouldn’t be done at the expense of schools or other things the city desperately needs. If parking decks are built anywhere in this area, they should offer validation for purchases at local shops and restaurants to entice visitors from outlying areas to come to the city rather than doing their shopping in Short Pump or Midlothian. Certainly the city could manage multiple smaller retail development projects in this area rather than an enormous bond package with no outs if it becomes a boondoggle. City residents deserve better than that, and based on the past track record of massive development projects in the city, they have reason to worry.

I wholeheartedly agree with Daniel Herriges’ Richmond magazine “My Take” column that Richmond should be cautious about trying to invent a retail/arena/housing/hotel/bus terminal complex in one fell swoop and should instead accomplish the redevelopment of this part of the city over time in smaller increments. Instead of saying “if we build it, they will come,” shouldn’t we be looking at where people are going already, and where there is existing momentum for economic growth? Scott’s Addition, Manchester and the Broad Street corridor are vibrant and growing, with new shops and restaurants opening all the time. The city’s economic development policies and plans should encourage growth of neighborhoods that are already growing organically and reward the small business owners who are the backbone of the city’s renaissance into a nationally-recognized foodie town.

In short, the city needs to focus on fully supporting the existing economic growth of “hot” areas by creating public transport options to, from and within these areas and by incentivizing entrepreneurs and business owners to continue to offer variety and excellent service to tourists and city residents alike. The city shouldn’t look to tear down and start from scratch with every design project, but should look to design cues from the city’s past and historical context markers in new developments to keep the city’s history alive. At the same time, the city needs to look at what things, like food halls, are popular in other foodie destinations and capitalize on those trends while still building for the long term. And Richmond needs to wake up and realize, once and for all, that just because a bunch of developers say something is a good idea, that doesn’t mean anyone will ever want to go there. And with the nearby Jackson Ward neighborhood filled with retail shops and restaurants, the city could offer marketing and incentives to this organically-growing area rather than injecting a bunch of new competition nearby, competition that will surely receive sweetheart deals with the city to locate there as part of the Navy Hill project. Richmond can’t be everything to everyone, but it can be truly great at the things that set it apart from other cities: a vibrant, multicultural region, world-class restaurants, fun and funky breweries, distilleries and cideries and unique, locally-owned retail shops.

 

 

 

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Fun day exploring Los Angeles

This summer we took an epic family vacation to California. We rented a condo in Anaheim for a week through VRBO.com and spent our time visiting Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, discovering the Los Angeles Angels stadium nearby and seeing a game, and exploring the Los Angeles area.

One one of our “L.A.” days, we visited a few classic Los Angeles spots:

L.A. City Hall – This Art Deco building dating to 1928 offers gorgeous and FREE views of the entire city from its 27th floor observation deck. We saw the Hollywood Sign off in the distance and got to take in a bird’s eye view of the city.

Angel’s Flight – A Los Angeles landmark since 1901, this funicular railway used to ferry commuters downhill from Bunker Hill to their jobs in downtown L.A. It’s a $1.00 fare each way, and the trip only takes a few minutes, but it’s such a piece of history that you just have to hop on!

The Last Bookstore – This unique bookseller offers new and used books and a second-floor gallery space for local artists. The aisles are labyrinthine and full of quirky, book-related art. The vintage book filled bank vault was my favorite spot – I grabbed a vintage cookbook!

The Bradbury Building – A filming location for the original “Blade Runner” movie, this office building opened in 1893. It’s free to visit, but access is only available to the ground floor.

Griffith Observatory – Perched high atop the Hollywood Hills, this astronomical observatory is free to visit and offers exhibits, such as pieces of meteors and a scale model of the moon. Great views of the city are an added bonus!

Forest Lawn Cemetery – A visit to pay respects to some of our favorite musicians and entertainers was a must. At this beautiful cemetery in the Hollywood Hills, we viewed the graves of Stan Laurel, Nipsey Hussle, Bette Davis, Ronnie James Dio, Lemmy Kilmister, Debbie Reynolds and her daughter, Carrie Fisher, Lou Rawls and Paul Walker.

We packed a lot into the day, but we’re all glad we got to see so much. We were in Southern California for a week, but I feel like we could have stayed the whole summer and still not seen everything we wanted to. I’ll put everything we missed on the agenda for next time!

 

Chicken Fajita Feast

A few months ago I began a subscription to my favorite meal kit service – also the best value IMHO:  EveryPlate.com. This meal kit service offers your choice of three dinners, for two or four people, from a selection of eight different meal options with a range of proteins and sides. Since my kids can be picky, I’ll often make the EveryPlate meal for dinner for myself, my husband and my younger son and let my two teenagers pick what they’d like for dinner. Sometimes the choice of EveryPlate meal lends itself to “upsizing” with additional sides, so I’ll use that as the base for a meal for our whole family.

First, I opened a package of fresh corn on the cob and tossed the ears on a sheet pan with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, cilantro and my favorite seasoning, Tajin. This citrusy, spicy blend gives a little kick to anything you shake it onto. I roasted the corn at 425 degrees on the top rack for about thirty minutes, turning each ear about halfway through, until the ears were beginning to char.

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Second, I made two packages of Knorr Taco Rice. This packaged rice is a quick and easy side with fajitas or tacos, and you can boost the veggie value by mixing diced fresh tomatoes, green, red and jalapeño peppers into the rice while it’s cooking.

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Then I got into preparing the EveryPlate recipe for Classic Chicken Fajitas. Everything you need, with the exception of some kitchen staples like butter or olive oil, is included in the box you get from EveryPlate each week. The recipe card gives the exact quantities you’ll need of each ingredient and offers clear instructions with photos on the back. I diced and cooked the fajita green pepper and red onion, then tossed the diced chicken in salt, pepper and southwest seasoning. The chicken cooked in my cast-iron skillet – yum!

Last but not least, I diced up the tomato, red onion and jalapeño pepper and tossed with some salt and lemon juice to make a quick salsa, then mixed up the lime crema.

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Everyone got one ear of roasted corn, which I topped with queso fresco, a serving of taco rice and a chicken fajita on a flour tortilla topped with the fresh salsa and lime crema. What a delicious Sunday dinner!

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Do you want to try EveryPlate.com? Click here! You’ll get $20 off your first box. Weekly boxes start from around $39 for three dinners for two, which is only $6.50 per serving (the best value I’ve found in meal prep kit services). The serving size says it’s for two, but I nearly always get two adult servings plus a kid’s portion out of my EveryPlate meals.

A Visit to Mayberry

After hearing my late grandmother’s stories about her father’s birth and family in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, I’ve wanted to visit this place where a branch of my family lived during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. As luck would have it, this year my son’s Boy Scout troop decided to attend a summer camp nearby, so my mom and I and my other two kids made the four-hour trek from Richmond to spend the weekend in the town made famous by the Andy Griffith Show as Mayberry.

Mt. Airy is just across the North Carolina line from Virginia, and lies near the old wagon road that brought settlers, many of them German, from Pennsylvania into the wilderness of Virginia. After a bunch of research on Ancestry.com, I’ve been able to trace some of my Mt. Airy ancestors to this path – arriving in Pennsylvania from Germany in the late 1700’s and coming down the wagon road to Mt. Airy.

The town is small and charming and lies between Wytheville, Virginia and Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It has a quaint Main Street with antique shops, restaurants and tourist attractions from the Andy Griffith Show.

We visited the Mt. Airy Regional History Museum to get an overview of the town’s history and to see where “our people” fit in. The museum is housed on the site of a former saloon and later hardware store (which we found out the next night on the Mt. Airy Ghost Tour was haunted by the former manager of the hardware store).

There was a classic car and hot rod cruise-in, with old cars lined up on Main Street, and we walked around and got ice cream at Hillbilly Ice & Creamery.

More to come…

 

4th of July Dessert Cheesecake Dip

This is a quick and delicious dip to enjoy at your 4th of July cookout with vanilla wafers, pretzels or fruit.

US Flag Dip

Vanilla Pudding Cheesecake Dip

Ingredients:

2 boxes vanilla pudding

4 cups cold milk

1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar

1/2 cup fresh blueberries

1 cup diced fresh cherries

1/2 cup small marshmallows

Preparation:

Blend vanilla pudding mix, milk, softened cream cheese and confectioner’s sugar with an immersion blender or in a blender until thickened and smooth. Pour into a rectangular glass casserole or other container. Arrange fresh blueberries, diced cherries and marshmallows to resemble the American flag. Chill in the fridge until ready to serve. Serve with vanilla wafers, sugar cookies, pretzels, fresh fruit or any other snack. Happy 4th!

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Virginia Genealogy Tips

As a genealogy addict, I’ve spent countless hours researching my family’s history and have discovered that many branches of my family date to colonial America, with the vast majority coming to Virginia in the early to mid-1600’s. For those who have colonial Virginia ancestors, the Library of Virginia is a great resource in family history research. You can explore deeds, wills and other documents related to your colonial ancestors with a quick web search on their easy-to-use website.

If you have a colonial Virginia ancestor, you can click on the “Search the LVA catalog” link to access the catalog search. I recommend clicking on “Advanced Search” and entering the first name in the top field (where it says “any field” and “contains”), then entering the last name in the bottom field (where it says “AND,” “any field,” “contains”). This will only pull results where both names appear in the same phrase, which is helpful if you have an ancestor with a common name.

LVA Search Screen

Some records are available electronically for download. Others are physically housed at the Library of Virginia. You can create an account in order to request specific documents if you are local and can visit the library. They also regularly offer genealogy classes. Even if you are not local to Virginia, I have found that the records available electronically can be extremely valuable in obtaining a clearer picture of who your ancestors were and how they lived. Records on material assistance provided to the Revolutionary War effort, land grants by the King of England and family bibles and wills give so much context to the names and dates of ancestors.

Just as an example, I plugged in my ancestor Hance/Hans Hendrick’s (1660-1728) name and ran a search. Several documents showed up, including some land records available online. I discovered that on April 25, 1701, Hance Hendrick was granted 594 acres of land in King and Queen County, Virginia.

Hans Hendrick Land Grant

These types of records are ideal for placing an ancestor in a particular location at a particular time. If you have colonial Virginia ancestors in your tree, I’d highly recommend running some searches via the Library of Virginia’s website. I’d love to know what you find out!

Perfect Spring Brunch

This light, easy spring brunch was delicious, and was made possible by Aldi’s sale on hams (50% off).

The refrigerated ham came with glaze for baking. It was pretty quick to bake, then glaze during the last 15 minutes of baking. My trick is to wrap the dish or tray you use to bake your ham in aluminum foil until you glaze it. That will keep the ends of the ham from getting burnt.

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While the ham was baking, I made a quick pie dough, then I diced up a medium onion and layered onto the bottom of the pie crust. I thinly sliced two medium zucchinis and two medium squash, layered them in my pie pan over the crust, then added my quiche mixture:  6 eggs, 1 cup milk, dashes of salt, black and white pepper and 1 tsp. of ground mustard. I baked the quiche in a 350-degree oven for about 50 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle came out clean.

Once both were finished, it was the perfect light spring brunch.

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