RICHMOND, Va. -- For 10 years I've been whining and pleading for the city to beautify the entrances to Richmond and welcome visitors with signs, lights and plantings - maybe even some art or sculpture.
For the most part, the key interstate entrances like Bells, Maury, Franklin, Broad, Belvidere and others are grim, grey and unfriendly. The only "Welcome to Richmond" sign that I recall is a small one in Scott's Addition where the Downtown Expressway connector exits. (Thank you VDOT for recently beautifying the city's interstate interchanges!)
There's little hint of the warmth and beauty that really waits within the city limits.
But now, a new welcome-to-Richmond mural on a parking deck wall at the busy Boulevard exit off northbound I-95!
This is the entrance seen by countless visitors every year, including those who go to baseball games at the Diamond, those who arrive by bus and visitors to mid-town and North Side. This week, thousands of runners have been exiting there to sign up for the Richmond Marathon.
The relatively new management of the Clarion Hotel - whose parking deck that is - commissioned a bicycle-riding local muralist to beautify the entrance.
"Exactly, welcome people to Richmond," said Clarion manager Ryan Ackley.
They're also riding the wave of street-art murals that have famously transformed the walls of Richmond, making it a key mural destination in the nation.
"You go through Richmond city and see all those huge murals and you're like, wow, that's really amazing," Ryan told me Friday. "We wanted to try to do something like that here."
The work by the artist (whose identity was not revealed to me) is not quite complete.
It's raw and unfinished to my eye. Seemingly haphazard, with cats and speakers and faces, along the big "Welcome Richmond."
But don't take my word for it. After all, I'm the guy who got roasted pretty well for challenging the number and style of the street-art murals that keep growing on city walls.
This is a hotel that has seen a dramatic transformation is the past two years. It has been renovated inside and out, with new exteriors, plantings and lighting. It has gone from being an underused, seedy eyesore to a busy hotel with a new Nacho Mamas restaurant inside. There have been successful conventions there in recent months.
"When we changed management, the major focus was to really upgrade the hotel," Ryan said.
(Yes, there was a homicide there two weeks ago - Nov. 2 - that claimed the life of a 22-year-old New York City woman following a disturbance in her room.)
"We've been trying really hard," Ryan said.
The mural is part of that effort to represent the city and the life in it, he said.
"We haven't had any complaints," Ryan said. "But I guess it's pretty early. There's still room for complaints - there's also room for compliments."
Like the mural or not, at least the folks at the Clarion Hotel get the idea of sprucing up a key entrance to the city. It's a welcome effort.