Bill Abeloff – RIP

William H. Abeloff, the visionary who transformed the urban landscape of the city of Richmond, died at home yesterday. He was 71.

In 1981, when everyone else had written off downtown Richmond as a place to live, Abeloff bought his first parcel in Tobacco Row, a string of abandoned tobacco warehouses overlooking the James River. By 1991, he had renovated the first warehouse into a 260-unit apartment building. Today, a much-expanded Tobacco Row anchors the thriving, mixed-use Shockoe Bottom district, a vibrant center of the advertising-marketing-communications industry and the most popular entertainment district in Central Virginia.

After selling his interest in Tobacco Row, Abeloff then laid the legal groundwork for Rocketts Landing, another urban revitalization project, just downstream from Tobacco Row. His crucial contribution was persuading Henrico County to re-write its zoning code to allow urban, mixed-use development. This unsung achievement has inspired a half dozen or more major mixed-use development projects in Henrico. Like Rocketts Landing itself, none of these projects has yet been built, but they are in the development pipeline, and they represent a marked reversal from the traditional pattern of scattered, disconnected, low-density sprawl.

Abeloff was an old-school Southern gentleman, charming, courteous, gracious. His death is a great loss. But he couldn’t ask for a more enduring legacy: a vital, transformed Richmond riverfront.

(Credit for Tobacco Row photo: Forest City Washington.)

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2 responses to “Bill Abeloff – RIP”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    I actually lived in the building pictured several years back. Tobacco Row was a great place to live and it has apparently gotten even better in the years since I moved. Glad to know who the credit goes to and sorry to hear of his passing.

  2. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    One life can matter a lot in our great Commonwealth. Every life counts and matters. And, an individual can achieve much good – if they desire and do.

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