RICHMOND, Va (WTVR) Two decades ago, police were arresting prostitutes and purse-snatchers in the all-but deserted blocks of West Broad Street midtown.
Thursday night, Richmond police arrested one of the businessmen who has helped revitalized those blocks.
“I’ve never been arrested, ever,” said Rand Burgess, owner of The Camel restaurant and bar at 1621 W. Broad Street, one of midtown’s key entertainment destinations.
That changed Thursday night when he tried to get police to give his customers time to move their cars before ticketing them for no parking signs that hadn’t been enforced in a decade or more.
“For the past six years, since The Camel’s been here, there’s been no enforcement, it hasn’t been a problem,” Burgess said.
The signs on Broad Street, which were put up in the ‘80s and ‘90s to discourage late-night cruisers, prohibit parking between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m.
When he tried to delay police for a few minutes so his customers could move their cars, he was arrested for obstructing justice.
“Pretty embarrassing being arrested in front of my employees and my customers,” Burgess said.
A generation ago, that stretch of West Broad Street and the nearby Boulevard were hot spot for cruisers - places to bring your car and your friends, park and hang out.
When it became too crowded, the signs were put up to chase the late-night cruisers away.
They moved nearby to West Leigh Street and DMV Drive, and were later chased to East Broad Street downtown.
Meanwhile, West Broad Street midtown fell into decay. Sears closed. The late-night, no-parking ban was forgotten because few wanted to park there.
“There were abandoned buildings across the street,” said Carol Piersol with the Firehouse Theatre Project a few doors down from The Camel. “Prostitutes on the corner.”
Residents, businesspeople and police ran off the infamous he-she hookers and other criminal-minded loiterers. The area slowly came back.
“We revitalized,” Piersol said. “We were the cornerstone of this area.”
She recalled police telling them to cover up or ignore the restricted parking signs. She said there’s never been enforcement until now.
(In the spirit of full disclosure, this reporter/columnist has parked in those spots many times late at night - for more than a decade - without a whisper of a problem.)
Patrons and players at the Firehouse Theatre got an unpleasant surprise when they came outside Wednesday night.
“Darn if people didn’t come out and they had $60 tickets on their cars,” Piersol said.
As Rand Burgess said, businesses can’t afford to have patrons suffer unexpected sucker punches to the wallet.
“How many times can a customer pay a $60 parking ticket to want to come into my place?”
We asked Richmond police, why enforce the late-night parking ban now?
According to an RPD statement, a citizen complained that the 11 p.m to 4 a.m. parking ban wasn’t being enforced and it should be or the signs taken down. A meeting with VCU police and Public Works led to the decision to enforce the ban to keep down crime and a possible return as a cruising corridor. Warnings were issued for a week.
And then came the crackdown.
Rand said he had talked to the parking enforcement people and his city councilman, trying to get the wheels moving to get the old signs taken down, as they have in other old cruising spots.
“But obviously, changing the laws in the city takes several months,” Burgess said. “All we’re asking is, if you’re not enforcing something for seven, eight years, what’s a couple more months to not enforce something that’s not really a problem?”
That district’s councilman, Charles Samuels, told CBS-6 he had started working to sort the situation out and said it was a shame all this had to happen. He’s not sure why there couldn’t have been a delay in enforcement.
There’s no question there’s a severe parking shortage in the area, particularly when Virginia Commonwealth University is in session.
Tom Griffin with the West Grace Street Association said they’ve identified dozens of phantom parking spots – curbside areas marked for no parking for no apparent reason. Among them, the spots on West Broad Street.
“We’ve already identified those spots in front of Rand’s as, why are there parking restrictions here?” Griffin said. “Why can’t people park here overnight? Because otherwise they’re going to be parking over here” he said, waving an arm at the parking spot-starved Fan neighborhood.
Some of those watching the situation are left wondering if this doesn’t have something to do with the city needing tens of millions of dollars to balance the budget in this tough economy.