Top to bottom: The exterior of the Manchester Pie Factory, as seen from Hull Street; The courtyard of the newly renovated Manchester Pie Factory; The sophisticated interior of the Fall Line building at Rocketts Landing. Photos courtesy Venture Richmond
In the past decade, downtown Richmond hasn't just received a facelift, but something more akin to a face transplant. Buildings have been torn down, giant holes dug and brand-new structures have gone up in their places. Sometimes it's easy to think you've been transported to another city entirely when driving down to the end of Broad Street.
At the same time, abandoned buildings have been transformed into residential housing — much of it with river views and proximity to restaurants, coffee shops and retail stores. For the first time (in this century), there's plenty of opportunity for lots of people to live in an urban setting where walking to work is the norm.
"Cities are doing better than suburbs right now," says Rachel Flynn, Richmond's director of community development. "People want to live in cities again — [they're] back in vogue."
Today, repurposed and new buildings at Rocketts Landing, along with Vistas on the James, are transforming the downtown into an area that attracts artists, young professionals and the families they eventually become, among many others. Events such as the Richmond Folk Festival, First Fridays and Friday Cheers bring more people to the area each year, and apparently they like what they see.
The river is a big attraction. Kathleen Borkey says that after moving with her family to Manchester, "we bought a boat we keep at my husband's office . . . in the evening, we head over to Ancarrow's Landing, unhook it and go out on the James River. We never would have done that," she adds, if they hadn't moved downtown.
It's a time of change here in the city. However, instead of looking on the horizon for the next place to live, Richmonders seem to have discovered that looking back — with a different perspective — at what they already have is newer and more exciting than any cul-de-sac far from the city's center.
If you'd like to take a look at what's happening, this year's Downtown Loft Tour (March 27 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) will encompass six downtown neighborhoods from Jackson Ward to Rocketts Landing. Owners and residents will be available to chat, and with its 12 lofts spread across nine buildings, the tour will showcase divergent sizes and styles of homes.