Who had good year? And who didn’t? The year that was, summed up. (Illustrations by Arnel Reynon)
And so 2015 comes to an end. We flew into its downhill stretch with rainbows and cheers, thanks to the UCI Road World Championships — and, yes, that was three months ago, but we’ll ride the memories for as long as we can. It was a year, as all are, of gains and losses, winners and losers, and the purgatory occupied by the somewhere-in-betweens, also known as the Flying Squirrels. Here are eight who had a particularly stellar year and six who might want a do-over.
Who had a good year?
Our ears are still ringing from the roaring crowd on Libby Hill during the elite men’s road race. The chorus of praise was effusive for the nonprofit behind the city’s successful hosting of the UCI Road World Championships this past September. Maybe the initial attendance estimate – 645,000 spectators over 10 days – is a little high. Maybe those “foreigners,” as Gov. Terry McAuliffe so inelegantly put it, didn’t patronize every single restaurant in or around downtown, but let’s face it: The city crackled with energy and the enthusiasm was infectious and things could have gone a lot worse. We’re happy they didn’t.
Manchester and Scott’s Addition
Were these neighborhoods people, they once would have been the dungaree-clad outsiders with calloused hands whom we took for granted. But historic tax credits rained down like fairy dust and tax abatement programs added a pinch of sugar, and the demographic tide blessing cities turned toward the sturdy brick-clad warehouses of industry, creating the perfect storm of urban coolness. Scott’s Addition has the edge in its more well-rounded mix. Condos! Apartments! Coffeehouses! Breweries! Restaurants! Small business! But give Manchester a few years. It’s going to change the profile of the city. Literally.
The Richmond Public Schools superintendent has, thus far, navigated the minefield that is public education in this city without any major setbacks. RPS is implementing his academic improvement plan this year and moving toward a long-term blueprint to repair or replace its decaying school buildings. This past spring, Boston came courting and Bedden said, “Thanks, but no thanks,” amid a swell of public support expressed, as all public swells of support were in 2015, in a hashtag: #BetterwithBedden. By our collective memory, that makes Bedden the only public official in Richmond history with a hashtag to his credit. #winning
An officer-involved shooting in August could have turned ugly for the city and the Richmond Police Department had its new chief not displayed solid leadership in its aftermath. Durham, who took over the Richmond Police Department in February after Ray Tarasovic retired, inherited the city’s lowest violent crime rates in half a century, despite a shortage of sworn officers and noncompetitive salaries. He reaffirmed the department’s commitment to community policing and may already be seeing results. As this magazine went to press, Richmond was on pace to log its fewest homicides since 2008, when 32 people were killed citywide.
Any year is going to be better than one in which you spent five weeks in a Czech prison, but even without that point of comparison, Lamb of God frontman Randy Blythe had a banner 2015: His photography was exhibited at a New York City gallery; Lamb of God’s latest album, “VII: Sturm Und Drang”, hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Rock Albums chart; and he collaborated with Richmond Ballet dancer Matthew Frain on music for the piece “Inventory,” which debuted at the company’s New Works Festival in March. Blythe also recorded a song with the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl for punk-metal supergroup Teenage Time Killers’ debut album. And, finally, he released Dark Days, a memoir exploring his journey through the Czech Republic’s legal system and his eventual acquittal on manslaughter charges involving the death of a fan who was injured during a 2010 Lamb of God concert in Prague.
Richmond’s love affair with beer, specifically the output of various craft breweries around the region, shows no signs of cooling. Stone Brewing Co. is scheduled to complete construction of its East Coast production facilities early next year on Richmond’s East End, while beloved North Side fixture Hardywood Park Craft Brewery plans to open the first phase of its 24-acre Hardywood West facility in Goochland County by the spring of 2017. Meanwhile, sometime between this magazine’s deadline and year’s end, The Veil Brewing Co. joins Ardent Craft Ales and Isley Brewing Co. in, where else, Scott’s Addition. Is it any wonder the Times-Dispatch has special correspondent Annie Tobey focusing on beer news?
The sesquicentennial offered a Civil War-related cornucopia of historical delights: lectures, tours and exhibitions. Lively discussions continued about the best way to recognize the city’s connection to slavery and the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail site in Shockoe Bottom — better than avoiding the subject altogether. Debates swirled around Confederate-era memorials and how contemporary context might better relate their meaning.
Though the highly anticipated South Side spot opened at the tail of 2014, its star shone bright throughout this year, escalating from neighborhood haunt to one of Bon Appétit’s top 50 best new restaurants in the country. Its chefs didn’t fare too shabbily, either: Joe Sparatta (also of Heritage) took home the title of Chef of the Year during January’s Elby Awards, and in February, Lee Gregory (also of The Roosevelt) was tapped as a James Beard Award semifinalist. Southbound has won national acclaim for its family friendly ethos and elevated kids menu — just one reason why Richmonders and visitors keep the tables packed, night after night.
Who had a bad year?
What was supposed to be a watershed year turned into more of the same for advocates for a freestanding children’s hospital in the region. The project, long plagued by delays and false starts, hit another snag this spring. The VCU Health System and the Bon Secours Richmond Health System backed out of negotiations facilitated by the Children’s Hospital Alliance, spurning a $150 million gift from philanthropists Bill and Alice Goodwin. Supporters tried, and failed, to persuade the health systems to come back to the table. Last month, the alliance shed its paid staff, and told City Council it was abandoning its lobbying efforts to claim the coveted Boulevard site for the hospital.
Redskins Training Camp
Coming off a rare playoff appearance, the Washington Redskins drew healthy crowds when they arrived for training camp in 2013, and who didn’t love NFL rookie of the year, Robert Griffin III? Then this year the wheels came off: RGIII is riding the bench; average daily attendance dropped from 11,183 to 6,222 in one year; and the promised economic impact remains somewhat ethereal, with a 25 percent office vacancy rate at the $10 million training center — sorry, the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center™ — and the Richmond Economic Development Authority covering a $285,538 shortfall in the city’s required annual contributions to the Redskins for moving the training camp here.
Perhaps the writing was on the wall when founder and CEO Tonya Mallory abruptly resigned in 2014 and mass layoffs followed. Health Diagnostic Laboratory, Inc., the one-time-darling of the Richmond startup scene, saw its reputation and business plummet in 2015 under the weight of several lawsuits, including one lodged by the U.S. government alleging an elaborate kickback scheme. HDL declared bankruptcy in June, and was ultimately sold to a Texas-based company this fall. Mallory, who is seeking dismissal of the government lawsuit, has called the accusations “a witch hunt.”
Mayor Dwight Jones
Yes, the stadium-in-Shockoe-Bottom redevelopment plan – in which the mayor invested so much political capital – died this year amid unanswered financial questions and persistent opposition. The Squirrels’ new ballpark will have to become an economic catalyst elsewhere. But it was the nuts-and-bolts stuff that did Jones in in 2015. He’s the man at the head of the administrative table, and when an annual comprehensive financial report is nearly a year late and departments are in upheaval — no matter what the reason — it is upon his shoulders the blame must fall.
The Virginia Flaggers
The June shooting deaths of nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, rekindled a national debate about the Confederate flag, with Alabama and South Carolina each removing it from capitol grounds and Gov. Terry McAuliffe ordering the phasing out of the flag insignia on Virginia license plates. Despite the seeming shift in momentum, the Virginia Flaggers, local Stars and Bars supporters, were undeterred: In response to a protest against the UCI Road World Championships’ route including Monument Avenue, the flaggers had a plane circle overhead, trailing a banner with the words “Confederate heros [sic] matter.” Though the group blamed the typo on the pilot, the Flaggers got roasted for the gaffe.
Boy, that live-stream of the Institute for Contemporary Art construction site is a bore, isn’t it? A five-month work stoppage to start the year ended over the summer when the university and its contractor settled a money dispute that saw the overall cost of the future gateway to the Monroe Park campus increase by more than $4 million. The university broke ground on the project in June 2014, and the ICA has raised nearly $35 million of its $37 million goal. The facility was supposed to open in 2016. A revised timetable sets the opening back until 2017. Patience, art buffs. Patience.