MARK HOLMBERG: Shootings, double homicide hits Dogtown, but won’t stop its rebirth

Posted on: 7:40 pm, April 21, 2012, by , updated on: 09:38am, April 23, 2012

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Two recent shooting incidents inside lofts made out of converted Manchester industrial buildings have definitely rattled those who have watched the area grow safer and livelier in recent years.

“I just blows our minds,” said Glenda Kotchish, owner of Art Works, which she moved into the troubled area eight years ago in the old Westvaco box factory.

Greater Richmond is a tale of two cities. Richmond and, across the river, the city of Manchester. [BONUS: Click here for all of Mark Holmberg's reports]

Richmond fronted on the James River. Manchester worked it.

It was a huge industrial and economic driver, a port city fueled largely at first by the slave trade and later by industries including tobacco, metals, paper products and manufacture.

Those who got rich off it – lawyers, businessmen, financiers, developers – built up Richmond while Dogtown remained low and industrial.

As industry faded, the historic Manchester district became run down, with slums taking over many neighborhoods, even some of the finest.

White and black flight in the 60s and 70s all but killed it. Murders were a frequent occurrence back then.

But for the past decade, Manchester has been reinventing itself and its historic buildings.

Bill Thomas Jr. with the Manchester Civic Association said it was a long, tough battle to get the neighborhood designated as a historic district, but that set the stage for one of Richmond’s most amazing turnaround stories.

Kotchish is among many who have invested in the area and have watched it turn completely around.

What was once a scary place where unsavory people roamed is now where mothers push strollers and neighbors walk their dogs.

Now many of the surrounding factory buildings have been converted into apartments or lofts. Many of the old homes have been restored. Suntrust and UPS moved in, largely because of sweet deals from the city. There are blocks worth of new apartments are being built.

It’s been a slow, natural, healthy growth. There are lots of people, restaurants, shops, even a grocery. And there’s so much room to grow because so many homes were torn down decades ago by a developer who believed Manchester could become Richmond’s Crystal City.

And almost the entire riverfront is ripe for development.

These uncharacteristic and unrelated shootings, while unsettling, aren’t expected to slow the transformation of a former city that has known hard times like few areas in metro Richmond.

Watch for Mark Holmberg’s exclusive reports weekdays on CBS 6 News at 11 p.m.