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HOLMBERG: Robbers and busy tow trucks need taming before Bottom baseball thrives

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RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)--Two events--one block and 24 hours apart--illustrate the problems facing Richmond’s troubled Shockoe Bottom party and club district, and a potential plan to locate a new baseball park in the crowded area.

These events represent the twin issues – crime and parking – that have haunted the area during the past 15 years, when the killings started and residents began crowding into converted factories and warehouses that loom over Richmond’s main drain.

Joseph Holloway, who works in a Dinwiddie factory, came from Hopewell to have a little fun in the Bottom Sunday at midnight.

He was getting out of his car, parked in the 1500 block of E. Cary Street, when “I heard sounds of guns clicking to my head, telling me to give up everything,” he recalled.

“They took my car, my shoes, my jewelry, my money, my wallet, my cell phone. Left me out in the rain, barefoot.”

He said once they saw his new, $200 Nike Jordan shoes – red, blue and black, size 7 – they were yelling to make sure he took them off.

According to a Richmond police report, his car was recovered in the 1600 block of Malone Street in the East End.

“Had a tracking device on it,” Joseph said. The police found it in a few hours,  the airbag light on and all the windows down, so the interior was soaked by rain.

Almost exactly 24 hours earlier and just one block away on E. Main Street, Nancy Quinn – a Powhatan grandmother – had her own unpleasant discovery, a shakedown of a different kind.

She and her husband Ray had come to the Canal Club for the 2nd annual Mid-Atlantic Beard and Moustache competition. Their son was part of the host group, the RVA Beard League.

At midnight, “I wanted to go get my car because it was getting late,” she recalled, “and I asked my son to walk with me because I’m not going to walk in the Bottom by myself.  So we walk about a block plus and I’m like, ‘My car’s gone!’”

Ray Quinn said “We never saw a sign that said we couldn’t park where we were. There were some (signs) farther down the block.”

And there were other cars parked right there, too, so they figured they were good.

They said they weren’t ticketed. Just towed.

Calling the police, they found their car was at the tow lot at Southside Plaza. Their son gave them a ride, and the couple found themselves among the line of people who had been in the Bottom and were now waiting to get their towed cars back.

It was a long process, and cost $95. But they saved another day’s fees by waiting through the wee hours.

For the Quinns, this is final proof this district if far from visitor- and family-friendly.

“I’m done with Richmond,” Ray said.

Nancy said it’s madness to put the baseball stadium in the Bottom.

“It’s crowded, it’s dangerous and you don’t take children down there,” she said. “Why would anyone take a child down there?”

Shockoe Bottom long escaped the plague of violence that nearly killed Richmond beginning in the late ‘80s, when crack cocaine came to town. Then, the district was a trendy college playground. But there was a fatal stabbing there 15 years ago, followed by a fatal shooting.

Since then there have been occasional murders and shootings, frequent fights and even a vicious videotaped group beating that remains unsolved. On weekends, the police close down roads in an attempt to control foot and vehicle traffic.

These days you see “for sale” and “for rent” signs in once-busy storefronts.

The district is a crucial one for the city, economically and symbolically.

Richmond can’t afford to have visitors to the Bottom spanked by robbers, burglars breaking into their cars, drunken fighters or even by enthusiastic towing firms.

These long-existing problems need to be tamed before adding a further complication – a baseball stadium that needs to attract families and children in order to thrive.

That’s my take. Please leave yours here on