Back from vacation and ready to work. Well, for three days. Then I’m off on vacation again! In the meantime, our Henrico County reporter Andy Jenks was asked to name the top 10 stories of 2009. A difficult task I think he aced. His top stories covered our entire viewing area, so I’ve decided to ride his coattails and post the top stories for the city this year. My criteria was simple… the story must have happened in the city’s borders and must be a talker! Here goes….
10. Burglar Shot and Killed in Union Hill: This one hits criteria number two right away. A Virginia Union student shoots and kills a man breaking into his girlfriends car. Eric Driver is eventually charged with murder and instantly sparks a gun debate over whether or not you have the right to protect personal property. His case goes to trial in February.
9. CenterStage/Miller and Rhoades Open: Two Richmond landmarks are open again. Miller and Rhoades is now a hotel and condos. The project was years in the making and has sparked the revitalization of Broad Street. CenterStage soon followed. Also years in the making, it will be interesting to see what the venue does for arts in the River City.
8. Storm Water Utility Fee: They said no new taxes… but this new utility fee certainly has become one. Homeowners on average pay about 45 dollars a year. Businesses on the other hand face stiffer charges. We’ve seen some bills in the thousands. The fee is designed to help pay for future storm water projects. Now, there are rumblings that the City Council may revisit this idea.
7. The City’s Budget: The good news.. no layoffs this year at City Hall. The bad news… we’re now 10 million in the hole. The stimulus money got us through, but now some tough choices are ahead at City Hall. This story will carry over into 2010….
6. Shockoe Bottom Development Strikes Out: A baseball stadium in the Bottom? There were no grey areas here. You were either for or against this idea. And the naysayers won out, and the Bottom lost a big chance to grow. Or did the Bottom win because it can choose its own identity? I suspect this healthy debate will rage on for years to come.
5. GRTC Deadly Accident: A woman walking to work is mowed down by a GRTC bus. She was in the cross walk and had a walk light. The driver was eventually convicted of reckless driving. A sad story that turned tabloid when a local media outlet decided to run a graphic and unnecessary picture of the accident. You can read my thoughts about that in prior blog posts.
4. Vacant Properties and Richmond Slumlords: In a down economy, you expect to see some blight and down trodden areas. But, the attention vacant properties are getting this year deserves a nomination. Lets see??? We have Oliver Lawrence going to jail and then having to serve part of his sentence in one of his rundown properties. You have my Don Lacey investigation: a former Henrico County cop and real estate agent accused of bilking dozens of Richmonders out of millions. His vacant properties line Richmond’s East End. And then there’s the new legislation being considered by City Council to give people tax breaks for building on vacant lots or for fixing up old homes. And don’t forget the new slumlord website which calls out bad property owners.
3. Wilder Out/Jones In: This story technically happened in late 2008 with the election, but Jones didn’t take office until January. Anyways, Jones jump to the helm of this city is a complete 180 from what we had just one year ago. Though, it makes my job a little more boring, I’m sure residents are grateful for the calm at City Hall. The City Council and the Mayor actually get along. We’ve had no knock down/drag out fights. If there’s a disagreement, it appears to be worked out rather than stonewalled or fought in the media spotlight. All I have to say is this… What a difference a year makes?!?!
2. Squirrels Crack Richmond: (Baseball is back) After a year without a team, it was nice to have some good news to report. And this new ownership group has really gotten people excited about baseball again. Even if you don’t like the team name or the logo, you were probably interested in knowing what it was going to be. My twitter page went NUTS the day the team decided on a logo. Let’s just see if that enthusiasm continues to opening day.
1. #Ukropalyse: No other story gave me such a headache this year! 🙂 (that’s why it gets my number one vote!) Also, no other story generated more emails to my inbox, twitter messages and secret phone calls and anonymous sources. With more than 3,000 employees in the area and a shopper in every household, people wanted every bit of information they could get on this Richmond icon. Six months of rumors became news headlines. And just before the New Year, we have the end of an era. Ukrop’s sold its stores to Royal Ahold.