After a move over to the Children’s Museum, Bill Pantele’s 2nd District Meeting opened with just over 60 people in attendance. He touched in district concerns and the Richmond city government, and then opened the floor for questions…
Folks from many of the 2nd District neighborhoods were present, including Jackson Ward, Carver, the Fan, and Scott’s Addition that I saw. Eighth District Councilperson Reva Trammell and 413 Precinct Commander Lisa Drew were also there, though neither spoke.
Pantele began with his good news, saying that, “Richmond is surging”. He gave an overview of the residential boom north of Broad Street (“Carver is the city’s flagship neighborhood in bloom, and with it’s sister community Newtowne West…”), and touched on VCU’s move into Monroe Ward and redevelopment in Jackson Ward.
Pantele then gave his thoughts on the “big vote” on the Performing Arts Center. He described himself as being initially skeptical, but this changed when he thought about this is being not just about that property but as a bigger play for the redevelopment of Broad Street (for a “24-7 downtown”). He followed with the fact that the new Federal Courthouse was not initially scheduled to go onto Broad Street, but followed this project. He also linked the $15,000,000 being put into National Theater and cited the impact of the same developer’s NORVA in Norfolk.
He then went on to describe what he sees as some of the ongoing issues:
- We are playing catch-up on years of under investment in the city. There are concentrations of extreme poverty, “we’ve got to address it”. Pantele said that we need plans to develop plans for mixed use, and that he will reject any conversation that begins with bulldozing or razing the current public housing. This can work “if we think big enough”.
- Public safety continues to be a problem, but sector policing seems to be working & the RPD is fully staffed for the first time in a long while.
- Over 1/2 of the city lies south of the James River. This area has problems with flooding, has infrastructure needs. This isn’t 2nd District, but would be good for the city to get moving on.
- Schools infrastructure is awful. Average school is 50-years-old. Fox Elementary, one of the jewels, hasn’t had major renovation in 50 years. He referenced the City of the Future Plan, saying that “we need to do that”. The audit of the school has produced benefits. He gave props to the schools improving performance and Carver Elementary specifically. 3rd grade reading scores in the city from last spring on par with the surrounding counties. THis is better than Roanoke, better than Charlottesville.
- The government has been in the news a lot recently, and this mostly “not good”. Panatele complemented his fellow councilpersons for their dedication and work ethic. Talking about the flare-ups and current crisis, he said that some of this might have been predicatable with the change of the form of government. He described himself as a big proponent of the strong mayor system, for offering the opportunity to frame where we are going as a city.
Pantele then opened the floor to questions, which he answered at length and seemed of-the-cuff knowledgeable about.
- First up was a question about who would be capable of restoring the funding for the transportation of out of district school children (to which I missed any clear answer).
- Next was a question by a group of new residents of Scott’s Addition. They raised concerns about Richard’s Rendezvous joining Paper Moon the neighborhood, and wanted to know if their area could be zoned residential? Pantele likened their situation to that of Carver a few years back, in needing/desiring a zoning change to protect themselves from invasive and unwanted development. (A joke about not asking for the Richard Rendezvous website followed…)
- What can we do about folks that beg for money to get drunk? Pantele: If I could answer that, I’d be a rich man. (We have an estimated 1,000 homeless in RVA, of which 1/3rd are “profesional homeless”)
- Where do we stand on new lighting for the Fan? Pantele: There is about $3,000,000 budgeted for that. A lighting consultant is slated to come on baord, and they will finish the run down West Grace and up North Mulberry in a December timeframe. A survey of residents experiences and opinions will follow.
- GRTC buslines? WTF? Pantele: We need a circular, to connect neighborhoods and business districts.
- Why has council joined with the schoolboard in suing the administration? Council has passed laws on the subject. We have an interest in seeing that the law of this city is followed. When the law is disregarded, you have to do what you have to do. “If you are going to try to do your business by invective and threats of deadline, nothing will come of it.”
A reporter from CBS6 was present but left before the meeting started when he discovered that strip clubs in Scott’s Addition was not on the agenda. He missed it when it did come up; maybe someone can forward this to him? NBC12 shot some footage, but left before Pantele was through with his introduction.