Shockoe Bottom’s slavery history is big focus for revitalization experts

RICHMOND, Va. -- A panel of experts from across the nation presented their recommendations for how Mayor Levar Stoney can revitalize the Shockoe Bottom area.

Stoney was one of four mayors across the country chosen by The Rose Center for Public Leadership, jointly operated by the National League of Cities and the Urban Land Institute, to advise the city on implementing a shared vision for their chosen district.

Stoney chose Shockoe Bottom: a 129-acre district located just east of downtown along the James River dotted with incomplete construction projects and unfilled storefronts.

The panel of 12 shared their observations to a room inside the Main Street Station Thursday morning after studying the area for several days.

Their presentation centered around the economic potential of the Lumpkin's Jail site, which was once the site of the nation's second-largest slave holding facility.

"Devil's Half Acre site offers opportunity to create an international cultural destination," read one panelist.

Community members pointed out a wealth inequality that needs to be accounted for when planning the future of the area.

Meeting at Main Street Station

Meeting at Main Street Station

"The black community, which is the most directly affected by the history of Shockoe Bottom, has to have the primary voice," said Phil Wilayto of the Defenders of Freedom, Justice and Equality.

The group recognized that there's a struggle to find a common vision for the historic area.

Michael Akerlow, CEO of the Community Development Corporation of Utah, recommended Stoney hire a project manager that would lead the efforts.

"I think there's some distrust that has been created over the years," Akerlow described. "The leader needs to have ability to listen to the different voices and be a trusted person to make sure all view points are represented."

The Rose Center panel described Shockoe Bottom challenged with being situated on a floodplain and that the area is physically cut off from other parts of the city.

The group also recommended Mayor Stoney planned to create better access to neighboring communities and look into opening a museum inside the Main Street Station.

Mayor Levar Stoney said in a release, "Our goal is to find ways to protect and honor the significant historical nature of this area while promoting its growth and opportunity given environmental challenges. By creating partnerships and working together, we are poised to find a solution that will create a compelling destination for our residents and our visitors."

Florence Breedlove thanked the panel for presenting what she described was a comprehensive plan to move Shockoe Bottom forward.

"This is an international thing. This is not this just Richmond," Breedlove said.