Mayor Dwight Jones, Debra Gardner, DCAO for Human Services, Barry Russell, Deputy Director for Parks and Recreation, John Snyder, Enrichmond Foundation, and Dwight Snead of Dwight Snead Construction Company joined in announcing the renovation of Kanawha Plaza on Friday, July 31, 2015. The following are Mayor Jones prepared remarks.
Good afternoon and welcome.
We appreciate all of you joining us for our Kanawha Plaza Renovations Kick-off today, as this is an important project for our downtown and an important project for our city.
Kanawha Plaza was conceived of over 40 years ago – back in 1972.
This park was designed to reconnect our central business district and the James River.
It was meant to also beautify our downtown, sitting astride the Downtown Expressway which was built after land was cleared for urban renewal.
Parks can be complex elements of a city, but in Richmond, we pride ourselves on our park amenities.
With over 100 parks in our city, ranging from our widely recognized James River Parks System to beautiful Maymont where we hold our growing international jazz festival, we’ve got a little something for everyone here and I believe our park system is a strong reason we are continuing to grow as a destination of choice.
Our downtown is our gateway to the city of Richmond, and Kanawha is a particularly important amenity right in the heart of the center of our city.
So it pleases me greatly to get to this point today of beginning the much needed renovations on the downtown jewel.
To understand the significance of the park at Kanawha Plaza,
it helps to understand a little Richmond history.
When this park opened back in 1980, a decade of prosperity had begun for many Americans.
But a transition was already underway in our country’s history.
Middle-class flight to the suburbs had already begun—white AND black—,
and the decline of cities was well underway across America.
Crime started to tick up in most cities.
Slowly at first, and then dramatically, here in Richmond.
So it was no surprise that businesses moved to new places like
suburban corporate parks like Innsbrook, which opened soon after this park.
Back then, Richmond was on just one “top 10” list: The murder capital of the country. Our population plummeted, and few people were proud to call Richmond home.
That experience seems a long time ago,
but we’re only now getting out of it.
This trip down memory lane is important for two reasons.
Number one, everyone needs to understand that OLD Richmond is gone,
and it’s not coming back.
Today, our downtown is thriving.
Our population is rising, not shrinking
Our average age is getting younger, not older.
We’re showing up on “top ten” lists – but this time,
it’s for the best restaurants, the best beer, the coolest tattoos,
the best city to visit in the country this summer, and the home of the world cycling championships, back in the US for the first time since the James Center was built.
Here’s the other reason why that history lesson is important.
It explains why the park is in bad shape today.
As one resident said, “It looks the overgrown ruins of a Soviet era apartment block.”
I agree. That’s why your employees don’t hang out there at lunch.
That’s why there’s no “tai chi” classes in the morning, or jazz concerts after work.
It’s a mess because the city deferred maintenance for too long.
I wish that hadn’t happened, but when Richmond was at rock bottom,
investing in park maintenance …was a luxury we couldn’t afford.
I wasn’t here for those decisions, but I understand why they were made.
For most of Kanawaha Plaza’s life, the city had been in decline.
But today, it’s rising…and that’s why the time is right to fix up this park,
and return it to the downtown jewel it was a generation ago.
We are pleased that the City’s Planning Commission has approved designs for the first phase of renovating the park, and City Council has allocated $1 million in public funds to begin paying for it.
We are also very pleased that our contracting team has been chosen for this first phase.
And we are especially pleased that several corporate donors have stepped up to the plate and are helping us make this happen.
I particularly want to thank Dominion Resources and McGuire Woods.
I’m also offering an appeal for others to step up and help us restore this park.
This upgrade will significantly improve access to comfortable green space in the middle of downtown.
For the neighbors who work in the buildings surrounding the park, this upgrade will significantly improve your view and the way you experience the area and its connection to the James River.
And for the growing number of people who live downtown, this upgrade will help keep the transformation of our downtown from becoming a concrete jungle, and turn it into a thriving, diverse, and welcoming urban space.
That’s our goal in the short term: To make the park an inviting and welcoming space.
Our goal is to renovate it in a way that allows for any future concept that makes downtown more friendly to pedestrians, especially ideas that connect downtown with Manchester across the river.
So with that, I’d like to invite John Sydnor, our partner with Enrichmond Foundation, to say a few words, and then our DCAO for Human Resources, Debra Gardner, will introduce the project team.