Illustration by Arnel Reynon
Word that the Westhampton Theater will live to see the second reel is good news not only for fans of foreign movies and art films, but also for businesses that depend on the iconic cinema for off-street parking.
Last month, City Councilman Bruce Tyler, who represents the area, and a recently formed civic group called Friends of the Westhampton Theater received assurances from Regal Entertainment Group, the theater's owner, that it would continue at least for another year.
More significantly, Tyler tells Richmond magazine, Regal representatives informed him that any future decisions would give first priority to the organization's efforts to preserve the Westhampton. Tyler notes that while the Westhampton is most certainly an anchor that helps define the Libbie and Grove corridor, it plays an even more crucial role as a major provider of public parking in the area.
"The Westhampton is a big piece of the puzzle." Tyler says, noting that on-street parking and other parking lots in the area are not sufficient to support retail growth. Parking issues helped derail developer Scott Boyer's planned condo project on the current site of a BP station at the intersection of Libbie and Grove. The 50-plus underground parking spaces necessary to make it work proved cost-prohibitive, says Pat Heaney, co-owner of Mango Salon, located behind the BP.
Heaney says he's thrilled with word of the agreement to preserve the Westhampton — and its hundreds of parking spaces behind the theater.
"Libbie and Grove has so much potential, but the parking has always been the elephant in the room," says Heaney, who has about 100 employees at his salon and its corporate headquarters. "We're in a position where we might not be able to expand because of parking," he says, noting that the tony shopping district is at a crossroads. He adds that he's ready to help with any effort to preserve the Westhampton and its parking because
"10 years down the road, Libbie and Grove is going to be a really great place to shop — greater than it is today. But without [parking], you … could see an erosion of retail."