Nothing is more central to the future of Shockoe Bottom's past than Main Street Station, with its iconic clock tower looming over the thousands of travelers who transect Richmond each day on Interstate 95.
The old train station's future and redevelopment also looms large over the city's Shockoe Revitalization Strategy plan. But the role that this centerpiece — and its seemingly equally important parking lot — will play in the neighborhood's reboot remains somewhat obscure, even as the plan moves forward.
The proposal being developed by Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones' administration envisions a Main Street Station that shares elements with past abandoned efforts to redevelop the site. But rather than using those elements in a piecemeal fashion, those parts interact with the broader Shockoe redevelopment scheme.
Shockoe's importance as Richmond's historical ground zero represents only part of the plan at Main Street Station, says Anedra Bourne, the city's tourism coordinator. Bourne says that some sort of visitors center will occupy Main Street Station, but it's undecided how much of a footprint it will have. The main emphasis of the city's plan, however, is to make the building a retail destination.
"One of the things we would love to have is a major retail anchor store — a national anchor that would really draw people off the interstate and into Richmond," says Bourne. The site's easy access from the interstate, especially southbound traffic that can be lead directly into the station's parking lot, makes it a perfect launch pad for tourists.
"It would be a hub-and-spoke location," she says, with shops and restaurants and "even electric car hookups for the 21st century and beyond."
Shopping has been tried before in the century-old French Renaissance-style building. In 1985, the building opened as a 150,000-square-foot shopping mall. The venture ended just four years later, though the main entrance to the mall — on the east side of the train shed — remains as a reminder of this past effort.
"I think the mix of vendors is going to be different" this time, Bourne says. "It's going to be a location that's geared not only toward residents, but also visitors."
The proposal still includes plans for a nearby slavery history museum, a plan confirmed by state Del. Delores McQuinn, who serves as the chairwoman of Richmond's Slave Trail Commission, which is spearheading efforts to see Shockoe's slave-trading past uncovered and commemorated.
"We are still moving forward with that," McQuinn says of the idea for a stand-alone museum in the old Seaboard building on the west side of the train station. McQuinn says Mayor Jones remains "extremely supportive" of that plan, adding that a nonprofit foundation soon will begin fundraising for the proposed museum.
Both the Burial Ground for Negroes on the north side of Broad Street, accessible by an old railroad tunnel, and the currently buried Lumpkin's Slave Jail archeological site also will be developed as visitor sites, McQuinn says.
"We will open [Lumpkin's] — re-excavate and create a pavillion over it," she says.
Meanwhile, as the Shockoe Revitalization Strategy develops, there is also a plan to recast all of Shockoe as a center for "creative, knowledge-based commercial activity" — part of Main Street Station may provide business incubator space — and to turn adjacent 17th Street Market into green space called 17th Street Marketplace where a "new" public market would reside.
Additional retail, office and parking space is proposed to the north of 17th Street Marketplace up to Broad Street.
Key to whatever develops in Shockoe, and particularly at Main Street Station, is that "the hope is not to make it another museum," says Bourne. Still, she adds, "the full functionality" of the planned visitor information center could change. "We're still working on how it would take shape.