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Despite Riverfront Plan passing, leaders say change will be slow

RICHMOND, VA (WTVR) — It wasn’t the most controversial package passed by Richmond City Council Monday night – that distinction belongs to the Redskins deal – but it was significant nonetheless. 

After over a year of discussion, city leaders unanimously approved a $60 million dollar Riverfront Development Deal aimed at increasing tourism on the James River.

“I think the idea of the plan is to get people to the river more often,” Mark Olinger, Director of the Planning and Development Review Department of the City of Richmond, told CBS 6.

Olinger says the price tag of the development, as well as the many projects it encompasses, means it will take up to ten years to complete.

“We’re not going to get them all done in two to four years, I mean this is a long term vision,” Olinger said.

Another stumbling block will be funds. The cost of the development package is in the upwards of $60 million dollars.

Olinger says he has $900,000 of it right now but will need more.

He doesn’t expect all of it to come from tax dollars either, which means the city will be looking for donations.

“We think there is opportunity for philanthropic resources,” Olinger said. “I’ve had people call me and say that they are interested in making this happen,”

Until they have the funds, the city will prioritize.

The three projects slated to be developed first include a dam-bridge that will allow residents to walk from Brown’s Island to Southbank.

Additionally, Olinger wants to put observation terraces on Chapel Island and complete the various bike trails along the river.

While the plan passed city council unanimously, it is not without some critics.

Dr. Fred Shaia, owner of Mayo Island, had hoped for more development on his property.

In the plan adopted by the City, Mayo Island will be an exclusively green space. Shaia has plans to develop it even further.

“The plan was for a multi-use office building, hotel, restaurants and a lot of green space,” Shaia says.

While Shaia is optimistic a more commercialized plan could still be adopted, city leaders fear that frequent flooding on the island will make development unsustainable.

You can view the final draft of the plan here.