Category Archives: Dwight Jones

City Hall’s 60 Million Dollar Spending Spree

Rachel DePompa – bio | email

Let the quibbling begin! This week we learned Richmond’s Mayor had scored big. He negotiated a deal with the Richmond Metropolitan Authority (RMA) for $60 million. The money is a decades-old debt, owed to the city from when the Downtown Expressway was built. It was supposed to be repaid in 2022 when the road was officially turned over to the city. Jones got it much earlier than expected and kicked off a welcome “firestorm.” Everyone has an opinion on what to do with the money.

Which brings us to today. Three city council members called for a press conference. It was clear, the mayor’s announcement of the money and some of his ideas for spending it had hurt some feelings. Marty Jewell wondered  aloud why the Mayor hasn’t yet asked for council member opinions on how it should be spent. It was clear today, we’re in for a long debate over how the money should be budgeted.

The mayor made said on Tuesday, he believes some of the money should go to the communities that were pushed aside when the Expressway was built.  He’s targeting poverty and believes several projects in those area would boost the tax base and spur development. He’s made suggestions about helping build a new ball park and re-paving areas like Jeff Davis Highway.

Reva Trammell, Marty Jewell and Bruce Tyler focused on Richmond’s historically high tax rates. Trammell says the city should find ways to lower the admissions tax, meal’s tax and real estate tax. Tyler added, “At the end of the day we have to figure out a way to reduce taxes so that we can take the burden off the citizens.”

Jewell said, “clearly there are a lot of needs. Some of his approach (the mayor) makes sense, but then there are other ideas. We’re not short of them on council.”  Trammell added, “The money belongs to the citizens of Richmond, not the mayor, not the council.”

Council President Kathy Graziano was not a part of the press conference. She said today that the city should be cautious with the money; spending as much time “saving it” as spending it.

Now the city doesn’t actually get any of this money until at least November and you probably won’t see it budgeted until the 2012-13 budget cycle. So, there’s several months for the mayor and council to get together and work out a plan.

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Hiring Bonanza at City Hall

Rachel DePompa – bio | email

New faces are coming to City Hall!

Mayor Dwight Jones has hired for three key positions, including one job that’s been open for more than a year and a half.  That’s right, the city has finally hired a Director of Economic Development. Councilman Chris Hilbert famously worried the job had a “reputation” and consistently asked the administration about the vacancy over the last two years. Here’s more on that exchange.

Economic Development:

Lee Downey

There’s been 14 directors in 15 years. Mayor Jones acknowledge the jobs stigma, but also reiterated the fact that economic development was happening in Richmond, director or not.  Jones said today, “We’ve had so many economic development directors our Deputy (Peter Chapman) has been doing double duty, and so, an announcement today is welcome news.”

Jones hired Lee Downey, who starts May 2nd. Since 2008 Downey served as the vice president of business development for McKinney and Company in Ashland. He’s also worked as Marketing Manager for McGuireWoods LLP and as a business development project manager for Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP). During his time as VEDP, the city says Downey managed a variety of business development projects, creating more than 4,000 new jobs and $375 million in new investment for the state.

Downey said today, “I’m excited, I’m excited! My family lives in the city, we love the city. My background, my love, my career, my excitement is economic development and blending the two is a dream come true for me as a career. Being able to have my job be something that I’m so passionate about is exciting.”

As for the job’s notorious turnover rate, Downey says, “no reservations in that point.”

Chris Hilbert said today he’s excited to finally see the job filled. “The Picasso exhibit, the VCU men’s basketball team, the Squirrels… people who live in the counties are coming into the city now because of these things and we need to build on that.”

Mayor Jones said, “It also would not have helped us to choose somebody because the gun was at our neck. We wanted to make sure that we got somebody good. Somebody who had the training and the expertise. Someone with a record of having done economic development. A lot of times (the city’s) named people to economic development because they’re a good guy. We need somebody who can get the job done.”

Parks and Rec:

Dr. Norman Merrifield

This is another job a lot of people in the city had their eyes on. Former director, J.R. Pope left in the middle of a scandal involving a scathing audit report on his department. You can get the back story here on “Desk-gate”. 

Today the Mayor announced he’s put Dr. Norman Merrifield in the position. Merrifield starts on May 21st. He most recently served as the administrative executive officer and director of the Cincinnati Recreation Commission.  He’s also served as director of parks and recreations for the city of El Paso, TX.

 

 

Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Finance:

Eric M. Tucker

A position I usually dub the “finance guru”! Marcus Jones early this year to take a job as the City Manager in Norfolk. You can read all about that here.  Today the mayor announced he had selected Eric M. Tucker for the position. Tucker comes to Richmond from Prince George’s County, Maryland and Detroit, Michigan where he coordinated ratings efforts leading to upgrades for both jurisdictions’ bond ratings. The city says Tucker managed a turnaround of a $63 million deficit into an $18 million surplus.

Tucker said today, “Having worked in Maryland and being familiar with this area, I know that Virginia has historically been one of the best-managed states in the country and Richmond is now becoming one of the best-managed cities. I certainly hope to be part of, as the mayor said, continuing that process to make this a top-tier city in the state and in this country.”

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VCU Wants City Stadium and Talks Football

Rachel DePompa – bio | email

Football???? VCU??? Now that I have your attention, I know many of you will say, “but they are undefeated right now?” (That’s the joke I heard over and over this week over Twitter and Facebook.) But in all seriousness, let’s talk football and VCU. It’s definitely all the buzz. I sat down with VCU Athletic Director Norwood Teague this week, he had no problem talking about it.  

CITY STADIUM:

Let’s start from the beginning. Two weeks ago I obtained copies of Fulton Hill Partnership’s proposal for a shopping center on the City Stadium site.  Many residents who live near the 82-year-old venue have been up in arms over the idea of  tearing down the stadium. I began hearing buzz that VCU was meeting with Richmond’s Mayor this week. And sure enough, Athletic Director, Norwood Teague was kind enough to sit down with us. He says unequivocally, VCU wants the City Stadium property. “We’ve been following the debate closely. Certainly it’s something that we’re interested in. We’re definitely in discussions with the powers that be. We are very interested in the stadium.”

Teague says VCU wants to keep the property a stadium. He says, “there’s a lot of other uses that we would have from an athletic standpoint, whether it be tennis or baseball, there’s a lot of options…. It’s such a great piece of land, that’s close to VCU… and it would be tough to see it go away from an athletic venue.”  

FOOTBALL:

As for football Teague said,  “It’s something that if we do, we want to do right. We know that it costs a lot of money and the economy’s not great right now, but it’s something that begs the question because we’re a large school.  A lot of our fans want it, a lot of our students want it. There’s some that don’t, but it’s something that we’re going to research and research pretty heavily over the next year.” He went on to say, “Most schools that have started a football program at the Division I level, whether it be Old Dominion, UNC Charlotte, or where ever, they have a stadium they can play in right away. If football is a possibility I think you can connect the dots that City Stadium would certainly work well for us. It’s something where looking at. Something we’re trying to evaluate and see where it all ends up.”

Richmond’s Mayor, Dwight Jones had this say this week, “We’re going to do a series of community meetings to find out once again the community wants. As a part of that process you’re going to have entities that have vested interests. They’re going to do what they want, and so I would imagine VCU will be out there pumping up the volume. I would imagine developers will be out there pumping up the volume. When we hold our community meetings, we want to find the highest and best use for the property. We don’t want to do that absent from the community’s input, we want them to have input.”

And so the debate continues…

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Details on City Stadium Proposal

Rachel DePompa – bio | email

UPDATE: (Thursday Afternoon)

NBC 12 has obtained copies of conceptual drawings for the City Stadium site. This is what Fulton Hill Properties is proposing. I received the renderings from a source and not from the developer. In a statement this afternoon a spokesperson for the Fulton Hill Partnership, Paul Bratten, told me, “We are in the preliminary planning stages. We are eager to engage the public and talk to them about the possibility for the highest and best use for the site.”

Conceptual Drawing of City Stadium Proposal

Original Story:

NBC 12 has learned some of the details given to City Council members about the controversial proposal for City Stadium. A good source tells me that Fulton Hill Partnership is going to send the Mayor’s Administration an unsolicited proposal for a mixed use development. The plan leaves about 15% of the 20 acres site for retail. About 40% would be for a mixture of high and low-rise residential units. I’m told there could be some underground parking and even a medical building on the property. Of course, these details are subject to change. There’s no timeline yet on when the proposal will go to the Mayor’s office. The developer wants to buy the land from the city and pay for it upfront. There’s already been one contentious meeting. People who live near the stadium are very concerned about what will be put there. Many have voice opposition to a shopping center. At that meeting Mayor Dwight Jones announced that there was no done deal.

City Stadium Background: The stadium was built-in 1929 and seats about 22,000.  For several decades the stadium was the home of the Richmond Spider’s football team. Richmond built a new stadium last year and moved out. The City Council voted to restore the name, “City Stadium.”

The Richmond Kickers use the stadium now as do the football team the Virginia Hornets.  The stadium is in Councilman Marty Jewell’s district.

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Search Continues for Economic Guru

Rachel DePompa – bio | email

Help Wanted:

The job’s been open for more than a year. The city is still  looking for a “Director of Economic Development”. We learned today that a candidate was flown in, interviewed and offered the job, but was unable to accept for personal reasons. So, the city’s moved on to another person. 

The news came out today at a lunch between the Mayor and City Council. Councilman Chris Hilbert wanted to know why the job has been so hard to fill. He credited the Mayor’s ability to keep people in their jobs and stop the turnover, but wondered if that particular position had a “reputation”. The Mayor and Chief Administrative Officer, Byron Marshall, admitted it’s because that position has not been stable for years. Marshall said, “prior to this administration and even the last administration, there have just been a number of Economic Development Directors. It’s like a revolving door and that gives people pause.”

Mayor Jones urged patience and said the city is close to finally filling the position. And he said, “we ought not to imply that economic development is not going on. It will be great to have that one other person in the shop as another tool in our tool kit, but economic development is aggressively taking place.”

Marshall added that he’s been looking for a specific set of skills. He says this job is not just about attracting big companies. It’s also about bringing in small businesses and growing the ones that are already here.

I hear there could be an announcement by the end of the month.

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Mayor Wants New Budget Deadline

Rachel DePompa – bio | email

It seems like I need an office at City Hall because I’m about to start spending a lot more time in the building. Fall proposals and deadlines are ramping up and budget time is already here. Mayor Dwight Jones officially began the process today, by asking City Council members for more time to put together his 2011 budget.  He said, “This will be the first, truly, outcome based budget that Richmond has ever had. We’re not just putting numbers together. We have goals and priorities to meet.”

The Mayor is asking the council to allow him to present his final budget proposal on April 7th. By law, the council has to pass a budget by May 31st. The  mayor is also offering to hold more joint meetings with council members during the budget process.

Councilman Marty Jewell says he doesn’t mind extending the Mayor’s deadline. He said, “It’s a good idea. Usually we wait until February/March to get his budget. Well, this way we’re able to input into that budget all year-long.”

Council member Chris Hilbert says he’s concerned about not having enough time. He said, “This is a big, thick, document that we have to go through line by line and we owe it to the taxpayers to be able to deliberate over that.”

Bruce Tyler also says April 7th is too late to wait for the budget report. Tyler added, “It’s going to be very difficult for us to ask questions and get good answers back. So, I believe we need to roll it back to the traditional date.”

City Council members will have the final say on this issue. The mayor must formally submit the proposal and it must be approved by the council.

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Summer Vacation Over, Council Falls back into Action

Rachel DePompa – bio | email

I took a little vacation from blogging since there were no City Council meetings in August. I’m back and ready to keep you up to date on the goings on at City Hall! And there’s much to talk about. For one, that 6.7 million dollar surplus. Mayor Dwight Jones says, “I think it’s wonderful news for the city. We want to be a triple bond rated city and that’s going to require us to be very fiscally responsible.”  The Mayor recommended the money go towards a few programs and that two million was set aside for an emergency fund, which City Council approved on Monday.

Also announced this week, Richmond was awarded $2.4 million in Neighborhood Stabilization funds from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development to address foreclosed and abandoned properties in the Highland Park, Barton Heights and Church Hill neighborhoods. Twenty foreclosed properties are being renovated with the hope of getting them rented out or even possible sold.  According to a release from the city, marketing and sale of the properties will be provided to income qualified households for homeownership at a discounted price.  Down payment and closing cost incentives will be available to qualified buyers.

And here’s a list of  the homes being renovated…

Church Hill:

2616 P Street /1309 N. 23rd Street/ 822,824,826 N. 27th  Street/ 1220 30th Street/ 1435 N. 32nd Street/1305 N. 37th Street

Highland Park:

3600 Delaware Ave/3315 Florida Ave/1030 Fourqurean Lane/3020 Garland Avenue/ 509 Gladstone Ave/1805 Rose Ave/1700 4th Ave/ 1201 Spruce Street/1203 Willow Street

Barton Heights:

206 Home Street/ 1802 Monteiro Avenue/ 3023 Montrose Avenue

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