A Blueprint for Petersburg

Petersburg may be Virginia’s hardest hard-luck story. It tops the list for just about every kind of economic problem and social pathology you can think of. Yet the city has so much history and such a rich architectural heritage — one of the largest collections of ante-bellum buildings in the country — that its inhabitants never give up hope.

The latest blueprint for revival comes from a Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team, a week-long assembly of experts from around the nation who work for free with local citizens to create a vision for the future. Writing in the Progress-Index, Dulaney Ward, a local historian and co-chairman of the Downtown Harbor Initiative, details the group’s recommendations. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Capitalize on the burgeoning arts and culture scene in Old Towne.
  • Permit high-density residential and shops downtown.
  • Seek a small conference hotel of 200 rooms and 500 banquet seats.
  • Make downtown more pedestrian friendly; break up the super blocks.
  • Build roundabouts at downtown entryways.
  • Construct twin gateway buildings at the Interstate 95 entryway.
  • Develop a signature 88–acre River Harbor Park and Trails along the Appomattox River.
  • Permit more intensive residential development on the harbor’s edge, taking care to preserve viewsheds and pathways.
  • Make the harbor a center for tour boats, displays of historic vessels, and pleasure boats tied up at docks and piers.
  • Create an “Eco Lab” district along the river, and re-establish natural habitat along the river’s edge.

It’s an ambitious laundry list. Let’s hope the city can muster the resources and investment to accomplish some of these goals. The expansion of Fort Lee nearby, which will create a demand for more quality places to live, could provide the impetus.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


19 responses to “A Blueprint for Petersburg”

  1. John Murden Avatar
    John Murden

    The Petersburg People’s News has been following this closely.

  2. brenda p Avatar

    The full R/UDAT report is available in Petersburg People’s News archives (click here); the most recent development report released on Petersburg People’s News relates to the LISC program (click here), which is also mentioned in the Progress-Index article.

  3. brenda p Avatar

    In addition to Fort Lee’s expansion likely providing some impetus for development in Petersburg, Virginia State University’s 2020 Plan, calls for (among other things) expansion of its graduate programs and a law school. Already, the campus is undergoing a number of building projects.

  4. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    VSU wants a law school? Does Virginia really need another *law* school?

  5. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    Why is it that every time one of these plans come up, the same tired solutions are presented? Is it because that’s what is expected by the ‘educated’ politicians?

    The common citizen doesn’t care about parks and tour boats when their unemployment checks are about to run out. You want to improve your city? Then get the people jobs.

    If throwing tax money at all these useless amenities is such a boon to a city’s well being, then why are 16,000 a year leaving Cleveland, Ohio? With all the money they have blown they should be a shining example that this enlightened policy actually works. Instead they are but one poster child of many that have followed this path to extinction.

    Sometimes it might be better to let nature take it’s course and convert everything to an environmentally friendly condition.

  6. are you kidding??? Avatar
    are you kidding???

    NYC, Denver, Chicago — a few cities where development has enhanced quality of life, attracted people to live and play in areas that formerly were blighted, thereby making more jobs and increasing the tax base.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    Yo, Darrell,
    Before you get too arrogant about Cleveland, Ohio, consider it has a world class symphony (which Virginia does not), world class museums (which Virginia does not), and world class sports teams (which Virginia does not).

  8. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “Why is it that every time one of these plans come up, the same tired solutions are presented? “

    Pretty much my thought as well. If you have jobs, amenities can follow. Otherwise, amenities are just another source of debt.

  9. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    So what? Those have all been around since forever and don’t really fit this discussion, nor do Case Western Reserve, the Zoo, or Edgewater Park. The city has spent millions building a cultural scene in the Flats, or fancy stadiums, and replaced thousands of homes with ‘upscale’ development as part of their revitalization plan. You can have a dinner cruise on the Cuyahoga River, but that hasn’t kept 16,000 people from leaving every year.

    Virginia City, NV once had world class amenities. Where are they now? And that’s the point these politicians and their culture clubs just don’t get. Amenities don’t make a city successful. They are the result of a successful city.

  10. Brenda P Avatar

    Darrell – While you are right to point out that the underlying economic forces impacting a region will largely determine the success or failure of a development project, careful that you do not compare apples vs. oranges when you compare, e.g., Petersburg and Cleveland. I cannot speak to the specifics of Cleveland, but in contrast to a situation whereby 16K people are leaving each year, suffice it to say that Petersburg’s population has been increasing in recent years and there are solid economy-based reasons to expect the population to increase even absent any development — but I can tell you, it would rock if a Trader Joe’s were to come to town, and it would be a waste to not make the riverfront a cool place to jog/bike/hang out/etc. Further, it seems that you confuse these initiatives as thrust upon area residents by politicians. If you read the text of the plans, you will see that hundreds of residents have worked together for over a year toward defining these plans’ goals. This has been nothing if not grassroots, and should be appreciated as such. (That’s one of the cool things about Petersburg — the people living here are really committing their hearts and their minds to their community.)

  11. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I have a problem with cities and the problem is… you can visit their “world” class .. whatevers… but I always ask myself… would I be HERE at 9 p.m. and the answers comes back SCARY…. and an emphatic NO…

    No in all places in all cities but enough so that as a visitor.. you clearly understand that there are places you can be and places you better not be.. and the locals who live there know the exact boundaries and you know… squat.

    Now.. what does this have to do with urban development?

    in my mind.. a lot.. and the thought about jobs.. MELDS with the concept of having amenities… that are, in some respects, facades…if they are not safe.

    is my GUT view… not justified.. perhaps even ignorant and even if it might be.. do you think folks who “might” live there.. would not.. if they do not feel safe?

  12. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    From 2000-06, net internal migration from Fairfax County was negative 91,350, offset by births and international migration, for a net population gain of 40,694.

    Demographia.com Washington-Baltimore CSA Migration

    Fix the basics first.

  13. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Darrell in Chesapeake,
    You need to check your facts. True, Cleveland and Cuyahoga County have lost population, but surrounding rural populations have gained. Sort of like Norfolk, near you. Does that make downtown Norfolk’s positive rejuvenation a failure. DoOn’t think so. What are you saying? Kill Harborside, the Tides stadium, the Wisconcsin exhibit, etc.?

  14. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Good debate: Which comes first, the jobs or the amenities. In times past, the jobs came first and amenities followed. But, as Richard Florida argues in “The Rise of the Creative Class,” the opposite is increasingly the case. Increasingly, members of the creative class choose a community to live in based upon lifestyles and amenities, and then look for a job within that community. The creative class is disproportionately responsible for new business start-ups, especially the ones with growth potential. Ergo, one way to grow your local economy is to create amenities, lure members of the creative class, and foster the conditions for an entrepreneurial, small business economy.

    Admittedly, building the amenities is a lot easier when your economy is growing and people are moving to your community than if your economy is shrinking and people are leaving.

  15. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Just came across a quote from Joel Kotkin in Virginia Business magazine, which republished an edited version of a talk given to the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance. He leans to the jobs-first, amenities-later school of thought.

    “Let’s focus on what really matters. A successful city starts not with edgy clubs, museums and restaurants but with specialized industries, small businesses, schools and neighborhoods capable of regenerating themselves for the next generation. If the city is healthy, the amenities and the arts will follow, as they always have.

    “We must understand that the first basic is to create wealth, preserve, nurture and, most important, grow our middle class.”

  16. Anonymous Avatar

    How about jobs, amenities, crime reduction, increased property values, etc. all evolving together (rather than as a series of chicken vs. the egg problems)… Check out this thread, specifically the document called “The Ripple Effect…” in the last comment.

  17. Anonymous Avatar

    Kotkin’s quote is not relevant in the Cleveland case. There, the museums, arts, etc all resulted from the large scale wealth of the city back when it was an oil and then steel center, going back to the mid to late 1800s. All of the fine museums, along with the CSO, are very well-endowed. Problem was, the old industries have declined and new ones haven’t replaced the void at the same level. Cleveland went through a comeback but not, unfortunately, on the scale of other progressive Midwestern cities such as Columbus and Inidanpolis, where they put a much higher premium on education and libraries than skin flint, no tax Virginians do.
    Nonetheless, new age pop thinkers are a bit off target here.

  18. Anonymous Avatar

    The real creative class does all the work themselves without government assitance

    Just look at Washington DC and

    Dupont transforemd next it was Logan Circle and now its going to be the Shaw neighborhood

    All of this occured without any government intervention

    If you want to make a killing on real estate follow the homosexual and artist class.



  19. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    I can see that my original post implied that these were tasks that the “city” should undertake. I mis-spoke. I meant to say I hoped that the “community” could undertake some of these improvements — led, it goes without saying, by private investment.

Leave a Reply