Press Release | Richmond, Virginia | November 26, 2019

Commemorating Historic Shockoe Bottom Offers Innovative, Transformative Model for Tourism and Equitable Development

Truth-Telling and Development can Work Together

Media Contacts

  • Brenda Jones – 202.588.6019
  • Ana Edwards – 804.517.4049
  • Elizabeth Kostelny – 804.648.1889 ext. 306

As many American cities revitalize downtown districts, concerns about the impact of gentrification have sharpened community calls for “equitable economic development.” Residents are demanding that within new development planning there must be a commitment to protect the legacy of America’s cities, retain the character of their historic ethnic communities, and preserve irreplaceable historic sites as a meaningful part of downtown revitalization.

A ground-breaking report released today by Preservation Virginia, the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation quantifies for the first time the potential economic benefits of preserving the historic value of Shockoe Bottom in Richmond, while also positioning the downtown district for 21st century equitable growth.

Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom was the heart of the slave trade in America, second only to New Orleans during its peak from 1830-1865. It encompassed auction houses, offices and homes of prominent slave traders, including Goodwin’s jail, which housed Solomon Northrup, the author of 12 Years A Slave, as depicted in the recent feature film.

“Shockoe Bottom is a site of international importance, and it is vital that planning be approached in an intentional and comprehensive manner to sustain its economic viability. This two-part report explores the opportunity for equitable economic development and its relationship to heritage tourism.It is the first of its kind anywhere in the country,” said Elizabeth S. Kostelny, CEO of Preservation Virginia.

Despite the incredible historic significance of Shockoe Bottom, its legacy had been long neglected, and part of the area had even been razed and paved over for parking.These damaging impacts, plus a city initiative that could have led to further disruption of the site, led the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Preservation Virginia to place Shockoe Bottom on its 2014 lists of most endangered historic places.

“With our partners, we knew this was a place replete with historic meaning that had to be rescued,” said Brent Leggs, Executive Director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.“Shockoe Bottom is a Site of Conscience of international significance on par with Senegal’s Maison des Esclaves on Goree Island, New York City’s Tenement Museum, and the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument.The stories Shockoe tells about the founding and establishment of this country are a vital part of our shared legacy as Americans, and the archaeological value Shockoe represents enables every person who visits to fill in the necessary blanks and tell the full American story.”

This two-part report, commissioned by a $75,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, includes the first analysis of its kind to quantify the economic benefits of conserving and commemorating Shockoe Bottom, while adding to the heritage tourism footprint of one of America’s most historic cities.Beyond this, the report offers an innovative model of equitable development that acknowledges the valued history of the community which came before, offers meaningful work opportunity to those who remain, upgrades the economic viability of the entire site, and opens Shockoe Bottom up to become an important part of Richmond’s 21st century future.

“The world is watching how Richmond addresses its past, and the steps we take in Shockoe Bottom will communicate whether we are serious about our commitment to historical truth-telling and equitable development.The Memorial Park proposal defines an inclusive vision for historic preservation and cultural development offering practical economic approaches designed to benefit those most affected by the history of Shockoe Bottom. (more)

This study originated from the community’s vision of how the story of Shockoe Bottom could help create a new, better Richmond and provides workable models for achieving equitable progress in this city or in any city around the country,” said Ana Edwards, Chair of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project, an initiative of the Richmond-based Defenders for Freedom, Justice and Equality.

Public release of this economic study comes at a critical moment when the City of Richmond and Shockoe Bottom stakeholders are engaged in an intensive public dialogue about the future of the historic place. Together, they will create a Small Area Plan for Shockoe Bottom, the first of its kind for the downtown neighborhood. This study, which emphasizes community engagement, inclusive land-use policies, and entrepreneurship, is intended to help inform and advance public dialogue and the City’s decision making.

The partners engaged Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Urban (CURA) and Regional Analysis and Ebony Walden Consulting to examine heritage tourism and equitable development in an area defined by the Rose Fellows report, released in February 2018 and adopted as the study area for the City of Richmond’s small area master plan.VCU CURA’s economic analysis of the heritage tourism potential of the site concluded that the transformative and lasting impact of construction, on-going operation, and visitor spending represented a significant financial benefit to the city and its communities.

  • Construction of a memorial park and muse­um, estimated at $46.7 million, represent significant one-time impacts. Operations and visitor-related spending, estimated between $32-36 million, signify impacts that are both ongoing and are more impactful over time.
  • For each $1.00 spent in operations of the memorial park and museum operations, the city of Richmond could gain $0.68 of economic activity.
  • Memorial park visitor spending would generate between $3.7 and $.7.7 million and support 43 to 85 jobs, depending on the mix of in-town and out-of-town visitors.
  • Museum visitors could generate a total of $28.4 million supporting 316 jobs.

Ebony Walden Consulting facilitated a national Resource Group of subject matter experts to examine the potential for compatible equitable development of the area surrounding the intended sites of the memorial park and museum. The members of the Resource Group include: Christopher Coes, Smart Growth America; Fabrizio Fasulo, VCU CURA; Chenee Joseph, Historic District Development Corporation; Julie Nelson, Race Forward; Kennedy Smith, Community Land Use + Economics Group; and, Khalil Uqdah, Cross Street Partners. The Resource Group’s examination defined “equitable economic redevelopment in Shockoe Bottom [as] a cohesive vision that builds community wealth and aims toward racial justice, ultimately dismantling past and present systems of supremacy” offering examples and models from other communities.

The report offered a set of recommendations which could help achieve the goals of equitable economic redevelopment by making the most of existing and future assets:

Establishing and demarcating the footprint of Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park while still allowing for development of surrounding areas.

Implement Tactical Urbanism: Use vacant space in Shockoe Bottom for events such as festivals and community gatherings that claim and drive activity in this space in preparation for change.

Harness the presence of existing Black-owned businesses and claim (create a map and market Shockoe Bottom as a Black entrepreneurial space.

Launch an equitable development initiative in the City of Richmond and/or at the neighborhood level in Shockoe Bottom, considering adoption of the following tools: Racial equity impact assessment; equitable development scorecard; performance-based community benefits agreement; and, incentives for affordable housing in Shockoe Bottom.

Use performance-based community benefits agreements. (more)

Create a development 101 workshop for community residents. Increase trust, collaboration, and understanding, and enable community members to engage with local government representatives and real estate developers.

The full report can be found at: Preservationvirginia.org/our-work/shockoe

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About Preservation Virginia

Preservation Virginia’s mission is to make Virginia’s communities and historic places of memory stronger, more vital and economically sustainable through preservation, education and advocacy. Preservationvirginia.org

About the Sacred Group Historical Reclamation Project

The Sacred Ground Project is an initiative of the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality, an organization of Virginia residents working for the survival of our communities through education and social justice projects. DefendersFJE.blogspot.com and SacredGroundProject.net

About the National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a privately funded nonprofit organization that works to save America’s historic places through preservation evaluation and analysis, grantmaking, advocacy, public engagement, and litigation. It is the only organization of its kind in the country with a national mission to preserve places that are central to the heritage of the United States and receives no government funding. Its most visible work includes the 11 Most Endangered List, the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, and the Main Street Project along with many other local and national initiatives. SavingPlaces.org | @savingplaces

About the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund

The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund is a multi-year initiative led by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in partnership with the Ford Foundation, The JPB Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Open Society Foundations and other partners, working to make an important and lasting contribution to our cultural landscape by elevating the stories and places of African American achievement and activism. savingplaces.org/actionfund

About Shockoe Bottom and the Community Generated Memorial Park

Once a massive, antebellum slave market, and from 1830 to 1865 the second largest slave market in the nation’s domestic slave trade, today Shockoe Bottom is a cultural landmark and archaeological district in downtown Richmond. Today, Shockoe Bottom is designated as a Site of Conscience. Preservation Virginia, the Sacred Ground Reclamation Project and the National Trust for Historic Preservation have worked with hundreds in the descendant community and interested individuals towards the goal of having an expansive memorial space and urban park compliment the plans for the Lumpkin’s Jail/Devil’s Half Acre Museum and Research Center as a place where residents and visitors can come to reckon with the unvarnished truth of Richmond’s difficult past.

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places.
SavingPlaces.org | @savingplaces

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