This Is What a Fiscal Meltdown Looks Like, III: Eating the Seed Corn

Petersburg Visitor Center

Poor Petersburg. Financial consultants are advising City Council to save $300,000 this year and $400,000 next year by shutting down three museums and two tourism centers as part of a draconian plan to slash a projected $12 million budget deficit and work down a $19 million backlog in unpaid bills. (Read the details in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.)

City Council has not voted on the measure, but it has little choice in the matter. Its budget predicament is so catastrophic that it has no choice but to suspend all but the most essential services. That means the city is undermining its own economy. Fewer tourist destinations = fewer tourists = less business and tax revenue.

Sad, really sad. Let Petersburg be an object lesson to all. Never, never, never let your city or county to get into the same situation.


Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


23 responses to “This Is What a Fiscal Meltdown Looks Like, III: Eating the Seed Corn”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    might need to change your picture from NPS visitor center to Petersburg.

  2. Hill City Jim Avatar
    Hill City Jim

    According to the CLG, the top 10 list (Letterman?) highest fiscal stress are
    Buena Vista
    Lynchburg (wrot wrow)
    Franklin City

  3. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Buena Vista

    I have driven though and poked around these “cities” twice in the last two years. My impression then was that those places do not have to be the way they are now. Nor do they have to keep heading the the way they’re are currently headed.

    At the time I saw signs of federal long distance efforts to turn those cities around. Those programs had obviously not worked to date, perhaps had been overwhelmed, or under-powered.

    In light of Don’s earlier comments and my own research into early Virginia’s dispersal of political control into isolated local machines. How the crossroads courthouse system of rule is now frozen into a modern statute that solidifies tribal rule into a statewide mosaic akin to middle eastern satraps but without their outside support. How that heritage and history has left in place a free wheeling but claustrophobic Laissez-faire political systems instead. Is not this adverse to any real chance to foster imagination and marshal assets necessary for change, a way to jump-start talents, funds, and energy that sustains local ground up initiatives with a chance to lift off and stay airborne on the voyage of transformation change.

    Perhaps the powers to be within the regions or groups now falling behind every one else need to start and sustain Committees of Correspondence on the model of their colonial forebears that brought their kith and kin independence from the mightiest nation then on earth.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Minutes after I wrote this comment, I came across an earlier comment by a resident of Petersburg beneath Jim Bacon’s article found at :


      I cannot thank you enough for following the issues of the City of Petersburg. Myself and a few others founded a community “watchdog” group called Clean Sweep Petersburg. It started out as a midnight chat on Facebook with my friend and neighbor Barb Rudolph. We had been discussing the recent and past “mishaps” of our city on another Petersburg-related FB group page. Unfortunately, if the admin did not agree with or if a participant had anything negative to say about this admin, he would delete the posts, then deny deleting them, claiming FB had removed them! Thus the FB page Clean Sweep Petersburg was created. Our mission statement is “This group is a forum for Petersburg citizens, and friends of the city, who seek to shed sunshine on the conduct of Petersburg city government. Our #1 goal is to encourage well-informed and activist citizens committed to rescuing our city from its current decline. We are fearless in our resolve to clean up city government, unencumbered by political or personal agendas. We collectively demand honest, effective, responsive and transparent city leadership. While we don’t adhere to the “wait for change, be patient and it will come” counsel some offer, we do respect the laws of the city and the commonwealth.” The group now has 652 members, started in February of this year.

      We were pleasantly surprised by the extreme interest in a censor-free location to discuss, complain, educate, whine and reveal events going on. We have been publicly shamed by the local paper (if you want to classify it as a paper), The Progress Index. A few citizens have written fairly harsh letters to the editor in opposition to our efforts to educate the citizens and expose the wrong doings of our leadership.

      The Mayor and former City Attorney even tried to stifle Ms. Rudolph, co-founder of CSP, by violating her constitutional rights, they sent a letter to her employer stating she was using State email during business hours to harass the city council. When in reality she was only asking for answers, answers that the council should (if competent) have had readily available, or should have supplied in a reasonable time. Instead she was greeted by her boss with a retaliatory email from the Petersburg City Attorney and Mayor to her employer in an effort to have her disciplined and discredited.

      Thankfully, her boss (an attorney too) recognized that Ms. Rudolph was in compliance with state policy regarding incidental use of the internet, plus her email to council was sent at 6:30 am, outside of state work hours. Barb’s employer cited Va. Code 2.2-3103(10) which provides that no officer or employee of a state or local government may use his public position to retaliate against any person for expressing views on matters of public concern (I believe we have plenty of legit concerns) or for exercising any right that is otherwise protected by law. He closed the letter with: “I will leave it up to you to decide whether you believe the City’s response to the individual’s questioning of City Council furthers the spirit of this rule.”

      Recently at our city council meeting on July 19th, Ms. Rudolph during public comment period mentioned this letter, the mayor nearly jumped out his seat and insisted that her time was up, yelling at her “if you want to have an argument we can do that right here, let me make this clear – Do not come before me and the public and tell a lie” the crowd yelled back at him asking what the lie was and he said “I think she very well knows!” – I encourage you all to watch this disturbing YouTube video of the mayor in action- the first part is Ms. Rudolph addressing council and at the end his blatant display of – well frankly I do not even know what to call it. As Myers walked out of the meeting he glared at us with a “if looks could kill” face, then acrimoniously in a low tone said, “Liar”.

      Myers claims that he never told former city attorney Telfair to write the letter. The email from Rudolph to council did not include Telfair, so how did he learn of the email in the first place? The letter from the city clearly states from Telfair on behalf of Myers. Telfair has denied that he acted solely on his own recourse, asserting that he was simply following what he was directed to do by Myers, his employer. Myers not only declared Rudolph a liar publicly. He also tried to intimidate us after the meeting. I hope that you will take a look at our FB page, Clean Sweep Petersburg, in your spare time and read about the many other disturbing goings on within the city. One of our top goals is to get as much outside public attention as possible.

      A short highlighted summary of Myers’ glorious events.

      Taped, without permission a private communication with State Senator Dance, where he publicly accuses her of threatening him.

      Based on his direction to bar a citizen from speaking at a council meeting, last year the city was sued by the ACLU, causing the city to publicly condemned and fined for violating the Constitutional rights of the citizens. (Linwood Christian)

      Involved in shady land sales, notably the selling of public property, to close friends and family. In one case, deliberately did not disclose the relationship of the proposed purchaser, ultimately resulting in a significant profit to the purchaser (Myers longtime partner) and ultimately a Richmond developer that has a silver spoon issued by the City of Petersburg.

      Invented threats to avoid an angry public by canceling a city council meeting, that he knew would attract hundreds of citizens upset about the water billing fiasco. The so-called threat was so “bad”, that he only informed one other council person, causing the rest of the council members to show up.

      Most recently he has sued his previous employer, Virginia Supportive Housing, a partner in a “quasi-governmental partnership” with the City of Petersburg and The Freedom Support Center. He alleged they thought he was “too black” because he wore a hoody and jeans to a meeting And claimed racial discrimination. (Virginia Supportive Housing places homeless people in housing)

      Falsified his education credentials, denying it, and ultimately admitting publicly he does not have a high school diploma. Yet claims to have completed his GED (this has not been confirmed) and was awarded (this is one of my favs!), an Honorary Associates Degree from Centura!

      Repeatedly exceeded his authority (which is no different than other city council member’s, other than he performs some ceremonial functions and chairs meeting) by acting unilaterally including making legal commitments, scheduling meetings, determining committee memberships, etc., without consulting with all of his colleagues.

      If you do not live here and have not witnessed this upfront, you would never believe all of this and more! I grew up in DC during the Mayor Marion Berry circus. I would classify that as a three ring circus and this as a 6 ring circus!

      Again, thank you so much for shedding light on our issues and I hope you will continue to do so.

      Gina Harrison, Clean Sweep Petersburg


      Looks like the Committees of Correspondence are up and running.

  4. An interesting historical note about the visitor’s center at Carson…
    During testimony in the 1980s annexation case between Petersburg-Prince George County it was revealed that the Carter Administration had a policy not to support federal projects that exacerbated the problems of inter cities. At that time, the final authorization for the construction of I-295 was making its way through the federal bureaucracy. Both Petersburg and Richmond objected to the bypass saying it was bad for them, especially from the tourism standpoint.
    In order to gain federal approval, the state had to agree to build two visitors’ centers, one near the northern junction of I-95/I-295 and the other at the southern junction in Carson.
    Apparently, the Reagan Administration was able to cancel the northern center (or Richmond would not pay to operate it), but the Carson was probably too far along to be stopped. It could be that the Carson center was allowed to proceed because the feds paid for the capital cost, but Petersburg had to pay for its operation. Bosun

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      fascinating… so I-295 did far more damage than malfeasance?

      whoa! 😉

      I remember they also took the tolls off I-95 … right?

      1. Larry – the lack of people to stop at the motels along I-95 in Petersburg didn’t help things. Also, many military students attending classes at Ft. Lee were billeted at Petersburg motels in the mid-1980s for which we paid the per diem rate as taxpayers. The motels felt that they had died and gone to heaven since there were fewer citizen travelers stopping for the night. Then the military quit posting students off base as more facilities were built and the motels withered. You can see that in the former Ramada, the multistory abandoned white elephant along side I-95.
        It was just one of the many factors contributing to the City’s economic problems. Bosun

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    I could be wrong but I don’t see Petersburg Tourism as a big generator of tourism dollars – more of a tack-on to the National Park Service Battlefields that are the primary draw and even then – probably only for serious Civil War history buffs.

    I spend virtually every morning walking a couple of miles in Bloody Angle – said to be one of the more famous of the Civil War Battles …so I have a good feel for the visitors who are usually easy to spot as they do not wear sneakers for walking or have dog leashes with dogs or bike riders.

    Weekends – yes – weekdays – rare – even weekends probably 1/3 or less of the total and the vast majority are NOT headed to the local “Museum” but rather Chancellorsville and then the Fredericksburg Battlefields and then maybe the Fredericksburg Museum… and local eateries, etc…

    so maybe would have to see some real numbers for Petersburg to be convinced of the seed corn loss.

    The good people of Petersburg, by the way, KNEW 4 years ago that bad stuff was going on with their finances and as far as I can tell not a whole lot was done about it at the ballot box and now they seem to be deep into bickering with some personalities they find irritating who really don’t have much power to change things anyhow.

    I don’t know what it takes to get citizens to pay more attention and act when things go sideways and in some places like Petersburg – it looks to be a gradual erosive slide much as overt bad management. In other words – they had some mounting financial challenges – and the folks in charge were either asleep at the wheel or just not capable of or inclined to taking decisive action.

    Citizen boards are ill-equipped to know if things are bad if the staff and city manager are not inclined to sound the alarms and insist on their attention – their duty – to make the hard decisions.

    I’ve watched it locally – and thankfully the local elected ARE conscientious but the budget folks have had to be fairly direct with them – the BOS even now cannot cope with transportation issues of which VDOT has to step in and do it. Education is not much better as it been nothing but a contentious and tense relationship and the BOS seems incapable of any real and effective participation other than keeping a wary eye on the parents as a political force.

    I’m coming to the conclusion that citizen boards in Va are largely incapable of decisive action – WHEN it is needed.. they tend to dither until things go to crap then try to figure out what to do with the smouldering mess.

    1. Larry – according to the RTD: “The deficits first occurred under the leadership of City Manager B. David Canada, who retired in 2011 after 15 years on the job. They escalated under his successor, William E. Johnson III, who was fired by the council in March.”
      That’s a long time to hide the problem, citizen boards or no. Bosun

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Bosun – if the Staff effectively deceives a citizen board – it can – and does happen. We had that going on with a School Board in the Fredericksburg Area … even though the Gibson report and auditors had noted issues that needed attention in their reports but not highlighted as explicit warnings – that citizen board did not know and/or take their fiduciary duty for due diligence seriously.

        and yes, in Petersburg’s case they did have warnings.. from Moody’s and personnel did change but no actions were recommended nor taken – apparently.

        The state role in this is remarkable in that they do mandate some services and functions as well as audits but they do not mandate fiscal behavior… and they do not separately warn the citizens where finances have gone sideways past thresholds… either…

        The citizen board surely had to realize something was amiss.. though at some point prior to now.

  6. Darrell Avatar

    I was bumming around the other day and found this tidbit.

    American Cities Losing the Most Jobs

    56. Staunton-Waynesboro, VA
    54. Lynchburg, VA
    50. Rocky Mount, NC
    41. Johnson City, TN
    38. Harrisonburg, VA
    37. Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, TN-VA
    29. Cumberland, MD-WV
    25. Williamsport, PA

    Maybe Petersburg is just a tip of an iceberg?

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Petersburg is just the tip of the iceberg for sure. Rural America and its towns are dying while our cities and suburbs like Fairfax are failing us all too. This must be fixed by a reconnaissance of small town America. This will help all concerned.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        the above word reconnaissance is of course renaissance.

    2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Darrell’s list is particularly disturbing because the towns on his list were vibrant, well managed local powerhouses in their day not so long ago. Something is afoot on the land. One senses a decline in some places that is reaching a point close to a social collapse at which point the odds against renewal steepen dramatically.

      Meanwhile our most successful cities are failing our society too, pricing a growing majority of our people out of their marketplace. Contrast New York City, San Francisco, and DC today against who could live and thrive in those places before and for three decades after WWII. Now these cities benefit only the wealthy while they exclude most everyone else as they force the middle class out into reservations of despair that spread across the land outside those great successful cities. Meanwhile the smaller more rural towns wither.

      These forces polarize and poison. American society is again going tribal, being broken intomore variant divisions among its people, divided now by race, by class, by location, by occupation, by culture, and belief, all more polarized and aggrieved and angry, one against the rest.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        The primary exceptions here are fueled mostly by growing retirement communities in “attractive areas” along the coast and special mountain spots, particularly those booming in the new south. These are fueled by baby boomers living off wealth created in the last half of the twentieth century.

    3. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Beneath Jim’s article on Manassas Park, I elaborated on earlier comments in response to Darrel’s list. I have copied in that elaboration below this text.

      Meanwhile I hope we can return often to this topic on Virginia towns like Petersburg and Massassas Park, and those on Darrell’s list too. We have all witnessed the resurrection of such towns before. Our countryside is littered with success stories of resurrections past and ongoing. The wonderful stuff happening in towns like Georgetown, South Carolina, now home to one of most affluence Black communities in America according to a recent UVA study. It’s true. I recently checked it out there on the ground in Georgetown, South Carolina. It also happening in a host of different places. Like inNew Bern, North Carolina, and in Cape Charles on Virginia’s eastern shore, the list grows by the hour.

      These Va. towns, everyone of them, are precious assets whose restoration and transition are key to the future of us all, the entire Commonwealth, and the life and prosperity of many other regions within this country.

      Thus, for example, before our chest beating Universities in Virginia go forth across the globe on Virginia’s taxpayer dollars to solve all 0f the Worlds great problems from China to North Africa using their own unique “Best Practices”, they should consider, indeed perhaps be required, to hone and prove their Best Practice skills by pitching in to help people who have helped them so much and for so long in the past. People who live in their own back yards, whether in front of their noses or ninety miles down the road. Hope springs eternal.

      Here’s the earlier comment as elaborated.

      “Manassas Park is a far different place from the times when I passed through the town with regularity in the 1980s to mid 1990’s, including talks at packed town hall meetings. I am afraid that now Massassas Park could become, and perhaps now already is, an example of a most unfortunate and growing trend of local dysfunction in many of our communities.

      And that these growing problems are acerbated by the toxic brew spewed out by some in both our political parties as they madly try to create ever more wedge issues built on anger, complaint and grievance, to win elections.

      This political poison fed by our leaders to our citizens now combines with bad trends that grow naturally out of open borders, and other new realities feeding disruptive change such as globalization, the explosion of technology, our chronic abuse of bad land use patterns, and the growing dysfunction of local and state governments, and the factions and ideologies that run them, trends that now too often acerbate and magnify rather than fix problems.

      As to my earlier now edited comment:

      “Now these cities like New York, San Francisco, and DC increasingly benefit only the wealthy while they exclude most everyone else. They are forcing the middle class out into what are increasingly becoming for a host of reasons reservations of despair that now spread across the land outside those great cities.

      Meanwhile our smaller more rural towns wither. And the great cities, now becoming ever more depleted of much needed diversity and vibrancy of daily life such young and old people as watching young children grown and play, and by reason of this lack of diversity of life, these new cities are building unhealthy societies within their borders, however wealthy and affluent they might otherwise appear.

      These forces polarize and poison. American society is again going tribal. It’s being broken into more variant factions. Divided now by race, by class, by gender, by age, by lifestyle, by education, by location, by occupation, by culture, values, experiences and belief, all of which are becoming more and more polarized and aggrieved and angry, one acting against the rest. It is growing rampant, this poison. Our politics, lifestyles, our values, our policies, and now even our governments are literally tearing us apart.”

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        Edits to 2nd to last paragraph above –

        Meanwhile our smaller and more rural towns wither. And our great cities that now are becoming ever more depleted of the diversity and vibrancy of daily life that their citizens need – such as young and old citizens being able to watch their young children grow and play – such new cities are starving their citizens of social nutrients and thus are building unhealthy societies within their borders, however wealthy and affluent they might otherwise appear.

    4. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      “No campaign of the Civil War equaled the siege of Petersburg, Virginia. Petersburg was the object of the longest military action ever waged against an American city. More battles were fought and more lives lost in its defense than over any other, better – known Southern citadels: Richmond, Atlanta, and Vicksburg.” See:

      LarryG says:

      “I could be wrong but I don’t see Petersburg Tourism as a big generator of tourism dollars – more of a tack-on to the National Park Service Battlefields that are the primary draw and even then – probably only for serious Civil War history buffs. I spend virtually every morning walking a couple of miles in Bloody Angle – said to be one of the more famous of the Civil War Battles …so I have a good feel for the visitors … Weekends – yes – weekdays – rare – even weekends probably 1/3 or less of the total and the vast majority are NOT headed to the local “Museum” but rather Chancellorsville and then the Fredericksburg Battlefields and then maybe the Fredericksburg Museum… and local eateries, etc…”

      I do not doubt Larry’s statement. Nor the part about lack of motels. But surely there is a fuller explanation as to exactly why there is No Draw. Once armed with that fuller explanation one can gauge possible solutions.

  7. ksmith8953 Avatar

    Interesting fact about the tourist center. Tourism in Petersburg has been dead since the motel industry died. As a citizen, I wonder why the fire department was cut – 19 positions- but no cuts on the city offices were mentioned. Who is more crucial? A fireman, a policeman, or someone who sends out water bills?

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      lucky for Petersburg they got the NPS visitor center funded by the Feds, eh?

      I would think though you’d need every penny of revenue including those water bills… can’t pay those water employees without revenues!

      perhaps a good time to look at ALL positions and decide if some can be taken over by a fee for service private company –

      this could be an opportunity – to slim govt down and allocate functions to the private sector that the private sector could do more efficiently and reliably.

      So Petersburg could become a MODEL for how to downsize cities and towns in Va!!!

      Along the lines of – in every crisis there is opportunity…

  8. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    These comments from Jim’s Sept 1 article titled “Taking a hard look at Historic tax credits” seem quite appropriate here as well:

    Andrew Moore | September 1, 2016 at 2:24 pm | Reply

    Full disclosure: I am an architect and my firm receives significant indirect benefits from the historic tax credit programs through our clients’ rehabilitation of eligible structures.

    You raise some good questions and I agree that a balanced assessment is needed. I also agree with some of the commentators here that point out the difficulty in linking the benefits of revitalization to the tax credit program. The “compared to what” question is also relevant – I agree that the economic activity represented in the projects with tax credits would not have been zero without the credits. However, I am reminded of the side-by-side comparisons of tax benefits (sales, property, etc.) to localities represented by traditional urban patterns (think main streets) versus sprawl. The traditional patterns win hands down in terms of income-per-acre, even when perceived as “blighted.” I suspect that tax credit rehabilitation projects contribute to this type of high-value development and the short term economic activity only tells part of the story.

    One note on “gaming the system”: your use of that term implies that the the “players” are using the “system” in ways that are permissible under the rules (through loopholes or similar measures) and achieving their financial goals without satisfying the system’s intent. I don’t think that happens very often, if at all, with the tax credit program. More common, I believe, is flat-out fraud, though it is much less common in Virginia in a post-Justin French world, due to heightened scrutiny.

    The particular instance you allude to in the post may be a recent case of a local developer unsuccessfully trying to receive tax abatement from the City of Richmond, not the historic tax credit program. I can give you enough details to find the source material on that case, if you want them.

    Reed Fawell 3rd | September 1, 2016 at 3:51 pm | Reply

    Your comments are getting interesting fast.

    Historic preservation, urban restorations (formerly called urban renewal), and revitalization of old neighborhoods and towns, there appears to be a rapidly growing need for new policies or action that better address these needs that now seem to be as pressing as the need for historic preservation initiatives was when I was active in the 1970s and 80. Here a revisit of historic preservation law to better update it to meet current realities might result in great benefit to areas that are rapidly falling behind now. (Or perhaps much has been done legislatively in the past few decades about which I am not aware.)

    In any case, one thing seems for sure, namely: something is very wrong and very broken when Petersburg Va. can drop abruptly into abject failure out in the broad daylight of the public square as if by surprise. What kind of preservation of a state’s history can be more critical than Petersburg’s history to that of Virginia’s.

    Reed Fawell 3rd | September 2, 2016 at 12:00 pm | Reply

    Mr. Moore –

    I agree with what you say. Our project the Bachelor Apartment on H. Street kicked off that 1976 Federal Historic Tax Credit program in Washington dc. Of course Fredericksburg Va. is a wonderful testament to the success of that program, which saved so much of America’s history that otherwise surely would have been lost to the wreckers ball if not collapse into ruins from neglect.

    But like with all successful legislation there arises over time much paradox and a gaming of the system for negative rather than positive results.

    As for paradox, an example is how the wonderful rebirth of Old Fredericksburg helped spark its reverse. The ill planned strip-retail and cul-de-sac residential that now clog and channelize so much of life outside of the old town and now its spread to most all Northern Virginia, turning Fredericksburg into a hard-to-get to oasis amid a sea of nowhere places.

    As for gaming the system, an example in DC is how faux historic preservation claims have successfully driven residential rents and sales sky high by throttling the construction of nearby higher density uses. This is driving the middle class, the young, and the elderly out of the city while it bankrupts mass transit by drying up the foot traffic mass transit needs to support itself.

    Improperly used, historic preservation statutes can literally shut down the healthy growth of lower density parts of what is or would otherwise be a healthy city.

    Like you say it is a complex and ever changing story. So we must constantly adjust legislation to changing realities.

    LarrytheG | September 1, 2016 at 2:35 pm | Reply

    I would encourage the folks who have the knowledge and experience to offer their views.. nothing like having folks who really know the material to be commenting!!! and thanks for doing so!

    Bosun | September 1, 2016 at 3:52 pm | Reply

    Very good post and responses. I have an idea. Why not take the same examination proposed for historic tax credits at, say, the top ten other tax credit or grant programs in the state budget. When the governor vetoed the coal tax credit, you would have thought that he alone was responsible for the death of the coal industry in Virginia. How about other programs, like the Governor’s Opportunity Fund? Is the HTC the largest or are there others.
    While not related to the state HTC, here is an example how a developer “gamed” the Norfolk tax abatement program:

    “The Pilot reported in March that developer Buddy Gadams was tearing down all but one wall in a structure on Boush and Bute streets to make way for a large new apartment complex. His project was eligible for a 14-year tax abatement because the city code didn’t specify how much of a building had to be retained to qualify for the program.” Bosun

    Reed Fawell 3rd | September 1, 2016 at 5:50 pm | Reply

    I recall a lot of holes (vacant ground) in the downtown urban fabric of Petersburg – how about a tax credit program to restore downtown Peterburg to its look just before the battle began, and so build anew the historic buildings long gone and restore those still standing, as one part of broader scheme to revitalize the whole area, including bringing more of the historic battlements north and south back to life.

    Why not?

    Remember 60, 000 men, black and white, died there or were wounded and maimed there on this sacred ground. Let’s make the restoration of Petersburg a healing project for all of us, in memory of their sacrifice.

    Blackbird Fly | September 1, 2016 at 4:43 pm | Reply

    ” I recall hearing that developers game the system by preserving a small historic structure, or part of a structure like a wall, and incorporating it into a larger project while pocketing credits for the full amount.”

    The most egregious example of this happening in Richmond was with the infamous Louis Salomonsky’s Tobacco Row project called “The Loft’s at River’s Fall”. I read that he maintained one historic wall and was able to qualify for the tax abatement. You can see from the image below that this place is new from the ground up. Eliminating such cheating of the system is imperative.,-77.4285415,3a,75y,88.98h,94.57t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1swNsDRULw9bT3-PbVOXVmdQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    Andrew Moore | September 1, 2016 at 5:42 pm | Reply

    That’s the one I was alluding to in my comment. The little piece of wall in question is hidden behind the tree in the Google Streetview link you shared.

    I haven’t double-checked, but I believe that Salomonsky was ultimately denied tax abatement by the city. And, to be clear, we are talking about two completely different programs: tax abatement of City property taxes administered by the City of Richmond on the one hand and Federal and State tax credits administered by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources on the other. The latter program is the subject of Jim’s post.

    Cville Resident | September 1, 2016 at 7:07 pm | Reply

    One other aspect to add to the discussion: Is it appropriate at this point to consider policy or enforcement? Should the state be looking at more effective enforcement mechanisms (investigations, complaint intake, prosecutions) before looking at policy changes (caps, etc.)?

    John B | September 1, 2016 at 8:42 pm | Reply

    Same here. Look at the picture about halfway down in this one where only a very small part of one outside wall was preserved in Norfolk for a new 155 apartment complex.

    LarrytheG | September 2, 2016 at 6:47 am | Reply

    ” Petersburg hotel project to receive $600,000 in state funding”

    The state has approved $600,000 in funding for a new hotel project at the former Ramada Inn on East Washington Street in Petersburg, just one block from Interstate 95. The money is part of a total of $1.97 million in Industrial Revitalization Fund grants awarded to Petersburg, the towns of Clarksville and South Hill, and the Highland County Economic Development Authority.

    Reed Fawell 3rd | September 2, 2016 at 10:54 am | Reply

    Thanks for bringing this sort of grant up. Remodeling a Ramada Inn pastes over a problem, solving nothing. Plus $600,000 is peanuts. It won’t not buy a starter home in NW DC. Still $600,000 can make a big difference in Petersburg if it is spent in a smart way. As “seed corn” that jump-starts the beginnings of an altogether new wealth creating engine for Petersburg, the kind of start that lifts Petersburg into a game changer, a new era of prosperity.

    The Center for Urban and Regional Analysis (CURA) in joint venture with its equivalent at UVA should get a grant from the Commonwealth to work with highly experienced and able developers who volunteer their time and experience to help the academics to come up with a holistic and altogether new plan to revitalize Petersburg by building on its unique strengths.

    This should a tightly focused, highly disciplined mission led joint Venture. One that is built to avoid academic nonsense while its starts off as a free wheeling brain storming exploration of ways to build on and leverage off of Petersburg’s latent strengths hidden in its past and present.

    The first goal is to define those strengths, the second is to explore ways that will leverage off those strengths, and do so in practical real world stages that over time will built a new Petersburg into a gift that keeps on giving, generating wealth, prosperity and quality of life where today there is far too little.

    This can be done. Just like downtown Arlington County or Wilmington NC was done not so long ago. Petersburg can come roaring back. It has the critical ingredients, however latent or hidden now, for success, if folks come together to do it right. But $600,000 grants to remodel Ramada Inns will not get the job done but instead sends monies and energies off in the wrong direction to end up crushing hopes instead igniting them long term.

  9. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    For a taste of how the City of Petersburg is under performing now, and is now losing valuable ground of what it has left to build a future on, here an extract from a Richmond Times Dispatch article date August 27, 2016:


    … Looking beyond the raw numbers, there is concern that the museum austerity measure would throw away what many view as the city’s greatest asset: its historical legacy.

    “The proposal by the city’s consultant to cut the budget for museums and tourism is ill-conceived and displays a lack of understanding as to the nature of Petersburg and how it operates,” said James E. Sved, the city’s former preservation planner and museum manager.

    Sved said that at the time of his departure in late 2012, Petersburg had entered into an arrangement with the National Park Service to bring tourists by the busload to Old Towne to visit their new center at Southside Station.

    “The intent was to capture those historical tourism dollars by offering NPS visitors other historical venues to visit while in Petersburg. If the current administration moves forward to end all museum and tourism operations, the city is essentially tossing those planned tourism dollars right out the window,” Sved said.


    Petersburg owns and operates three museums: Blandford Church and Cemetery; historic Centre Hill Mansion; and the Siege Museum.

    The latter closed in November 2015 for a $1 million renovation. But little visible work has been done, and the museum remains closed because the city defaulted on payments owed to various contractors.

    The city also owns two visitor centers, one in Petersburg and one in Carson. The current budget includes $672,386 for personnel and operations of these facilities, including the museums.

    At $5 per adult and $4 for seniors and children, admission to the museums is moderately priced. Petersburg residents, active military personnel and children under age 7 receive free admission.

    According to the report that David Eichenthal, managing director of Richmond consulting firm Public Financial Management, presented to city officials last week, Petersburg’s museums had 10,922 visitors in the last fiscal year.

    Because all three museums were open 300 days that year, that amounts to 36 visitors per day — not enough to justify the operation, the consultants found.

    “Total revenue for all of the sites in FY 2015 was just over $52,000. As a result, the net cost of operations to the city is approximately $495,000,” the report said.

    But Director of Museums Brian C. Little said in an interview Friday that only regular admission is reflected in these numbers.

    “We also do special events that are not captured in attendance figures, and we rent the facilities for special events. We are involved in a lot of activities throughout the city,” he said.

    Still, the consultants presented a sobering picture of the city’s ability to market itself as a tourist destination.

    “Given its importance in U.S. history, Petersburg should have a strong tourism economy that helps to generate employment and revenue. Currently, it does not. In the short term, however, the city cannot support multiple visitor centers and museums. It should close all visitor centers and museum sites,” the report concludes.


    But even some of the city leadership’s fiercest critics believe that shutting down government-supported tourism in the city is going too far.

    Resident Mary S. Howard said the proposal to close the museums is “a foolish cut” and that it would be “even worse” for the City Council to approve it.

    “Petersburg’s profound history can generate free revenue,” Howard said.

    Kay Beale, a city native, said Petersburg has failed to properly market its rich history for decades.

    “They have not advertised and have not worked effectively with surrounding localities to promote the tourism. There are many small cities that have revived, grown and become known tourism destinations, but they have all had the same things in common — marketing and the willingness to promote the history,” Beale said.

    Petersburg resident Michael Vaughan predicts that without museums and visitor centers, the city is going to fail altogether.

    “Tourism is the core of future Petersburg. Absent this core, the city’s financial structure may be stabilized, but Petersburg will certainly remain a small, sterile and ever-diminishing town,” he said.

    Petersburg has created “a kind of Potemkin village” in lower Old Towne that has stimulated at least some tourism activity, Vaughan said.

    “But look at the rest of the city. There are scattered pockets of apparent prosperity amidst the ruins of what once was. This is not a stimulant to historical tourism. The only hope, to my mind, is to maintain the core properties that are the foundation of historical tourism,” he said.


    The consultant’s report recommended that the city offset the closing of the visitor centers by continuing to provide funding for Petersburg Area Regional Tourism and work with the Virginia Tourism Corporation to further promote visits to Petersburg.

    The city also should actively explore the potential for partnerships with nonprofits willing to take over operation of the city museums, which could result in annual savings of about $450,000.

    It is not known if the city already has pursued such strategies. Interim City Manager Dironna Moore Belton and Economic Director Landis Faulcon did not respond to interview requests for this story.

    Museums director Little maintains hope that Petersburg’s historical institutions will survive the austerity measures.

    “We want to see the city of Petersburg work with interest groups that can afford taking on projects like this, like another locality, a foundation or the state,” Little said. “Unfortunately, we don’t really have a big philanthropic base of donors here.”

    In the meantime, Little’s staff will continue to educate and inform those who visit the two museums that remain open for now.

    “We want to make sure people understand that this is an opportunity if the museums close at the end of next month, they can still come see the history and hear the wonderful story that we can share,” Little said.

    “The whole city is hurting, and the whole city could benefit from healing, and the arts and culture tend to be places where people can find peace and serenity.”

    Gene Ross, who has worked as a part-time tour guide at Centre Hill Mansion for 25 years, said the museum’s closing is a foregone conclusion.

    “I’m upset about it. I understand the premise behind it and I don’t want to be too critical of anyone in the city, but it would mean a loss of a very important part of Petersburg history,” he said.

    Ross said he will continue to hold out and that on Sept. 30, the presumed target date, he will give his final tour at the mansion.

    “The last tour will be at 4 p.m. that day,” Ross said. “After that, I’ll be gone.”

  10. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Some of Petersburg’s history for us to live up to and keep alive:

    “The idea for Memorial Day (known as Decoration Day in the 1800s) did not arise with General Logan; he had been inspired by local commemorations of Civil War dead already being held in pockets throughout the North and the South, in some cases before the war had even concluded. Logan, in fact, had delivered the keynote address at an April 29, 1866, Decoration Day commemoration in Carbondale, Illinois, in which Union Army veterans paraded in tattered uniforms and spread flowers on cemetery graves. Logan’s wife wrote in her 1913 memoir that she had suggested the holiday after becoming so moved by “the little flags and the withered flowers that had been laid” on Confederate graves in Petersburg, Virginia …


Leave a Reply