LGBTQ Activists and Community Members Differ on Future of Shockoe Bottom
A small group of LGBTQ activists showed up at Monday’s meeting of Richmond City Council to protest proposed development in historic Shockoe Bottom.
The protesters, who belonged to Southerners on New Ground, a group of activists who work with sexual minority people of color in the South, stationed themselves with handmade signs outside of City Hall before the 6 p.m. Council meeting this past Monday.
“As LGBTQ people, we understand what it’s like to have our histories erased, especially in Richmond,” said Rebecca Keel, a queer protester who held a sign reading “Roads.” She said that the Shockoe Stadium would not only wipe out historical sites for African-Americans, but it would also take funding away from budget items like schools, buses and roads.
“There’s just so many more things that we believe would lift so many more of us up,” said Salem Acuña, the Virginia field organizer for SONG, who highlighted his organization’s solidarity with Richmond’s African-American communities.
Facenda Granderson, a passerby, joined in the protest with statements about the poor state of the Richmond Public Schools that her grandchildren and nieces and nephews attend, and that the city government needs to leave the area alone. “Who needs a stadium down there?” she shouted. “Let the dead stay dead!”
The Revitalize RVA plan proposed by Mayor Dwight C. Jones would develop large sections of Shockoe Bottom into a mixed-use development, with a hotel, grocery store and condos centered around a new baseball stadium for the Richmond Flying Squirrels.
City Council, which had been sparring with the mayor over including about $13 million in funding in this year’s budget for necessary infrastructure improvements in Shockoe Bottom, agreed Monday to appropriate most of the requested money according to the Times Dispatch. An alternative proposal announced by Chesterfield developers to build a new baseball stadium at its current location with only private funding died last week in the face of strong opposition from the mayor.
Many, including the aforementioned protesters, have taken issue with large-scale commercial and residential development in one of Richmond’s oldest areas, which significantly held both a jail and burial ground for slaves before the Civil War.
The mayor’s proposal would include a museum and memorial at the site, to be partially funded by state money obtained by Gov. Bob McDonnell. But this plan was thrown into turmoil last week by Douglas Wilder, former governor and mayor, when he announced that he would vie for the same state funding for his own slavery heritage site at First African Baptist Church.
The LGBTQ community is not united in opposition to the mayor’s plan, however. In a January press release, the Richmond Business Alliance, which describes itself as “Central Virginia’s LGBT-friendly Chamber of Commerce,” expressed support for the Revitalize RVA proposal. President Justin Ayars said that the plan is “both good for business and good for Richmond.”
Besides the quality-of-life benefits that the RBA sees in developing Shockoe Bottom, Ayars said that the plan could “transform the former capitol of the Confederacy into a modern city embodying the notion that historical preservation and sustainable economic development are not mutually exclusive concepts.”
City Council will vote on the final budget, and hold the last public hearing on the issue about the Revitalize RVA plan on May 27.
Southerners on New Ground aims to improve life for LGBTQs and people of color by educating those who oppress
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