City: No solid plan for future of Monument Ave. after VMFA removed from project

City: No solid plan for future of Monument Ave. plan after VMFA removed from project
Posted at 6:08 PM, Apr 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-28 20:54:56-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Questions are swirling surrounding the future of Richmond's Monument Avenue after the CBS 6 Problem Solvers first reported about an overturn in the leadership of the Reimagine Monument Avenue project.

The change happened in December, but Richmonders and even city council members said they had no clue about it and were concerned about a perceived lack of transparency from those in charge.

On Thursday afternoon, Richmond resident, Karen Hill, ran past the space where the Robert E. Lee statue used to stand. Now in its place is a grassy area surrounded by fencing and concrete barriers which some neighbors have called an "eyesore."

“Opening it back up and getting rid of the fences, getting rid of the graffiti, and making it more of a beautiful space that we can appreciate would be great," Hill said.

But a city spokesperson, Petula Burks, said it's unclear when the Lee Circle will reopen to the public.

"The future of the circle is still being reviewed and assessed," Burks said.

Despite the uncertainty, Hill said she looks forward to a revamped Monument Avenue. When CBS 6 spoke with her on Thursday, she assumed the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts was in the process of creating big plans for the street's future.

“I think the fact that we have the VMFA in our neighborhood and that resource as a consult would offer a good opportunity to add art to the space," Hill said.

However, CBS 6 broke the news to her that the VMFA was pulled from the Reimagine Monument Avenue project, which was touted as a major community-driven initiative to redesign historical sites and would involve input from urban planners, artists, and historians.

“Oh wow," Hill responded.

A spokesperson for the museum, Amy Peck, said it hasn't been involved since December. The move was never widely communicated to the public, even after the VMFA spent more than $100,000 taxpayer dollars to develop a timeline and plan for the redesign efforts. That amount is out of $1 million appropriated to the VMFA in the state budget.

"It's kind of disappointing," Hill said. "It's also disappointing that it hasn't been socialized with the community more.”

Not only were Richmond residents in the dark about what was going on with Monument Avenue, but leaders on Richmond City Council, including 9th District Representative Mike Jones.

“We haven’t heard anything along those lines," Jones said. "Nothing has come across council’s desk.”

4th District Councilwoman Kristen Nye also said she was told nothing about a change in plans for Monument Avenue.

“I mean, Tyler, to be honest with you, I didn't even know that, so I appreciate you reaching out," Nye said to CBS 6 reporter, Tyler Layne. “We need to make sure whatever is going on, whatever plans there are, whatever funds are flowing to the city, which are taxpayer dollars, that the information and the resources are getting to our constituents.”

Jones and Nye added the residents of Richmond and leaders who represent Monument Avenue should have a strong voice in the next steps.

"I know council will also lean on Councilmember Andreas Addison and on Councilmember Katherine Jordan. They represent those areas, and so I'm interested to hear their vision for the area along with the residents of Monument Avenue," Jones said.

CBS 6 reached out to those representatives in the first and second districts through email Thursday.

1st District Councilman Addison replied, "I have not heard much about the recent change from VMFA no longer leading this initiative for reimagining Monument Avenue."

2nd District Councilwoman Jordan did not respond as of Thursday evening.

The City of Richmond, which is now solely leading the next steps for Monument Avenue, said there is not a solidified plan for its future yet.

"The monuments and pedestals that formerly lined Monument Avenue stood for more than 100 years and were only completely removed a few weeks ago. The city is going to take the time that is necessary to come up with a thoughtful and deliberate process for equitably reimagining this gateway to our city; one that aligns with the Richmond 300 plan for this residential neighborhood," Burks said.

The VMFA said it will return the remaining funds that weren't used to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Peck told CBS 6 the VMFA was not consulted by the state or city about being booted off the project.

It's unclear who made the decision to remove the VMFA.

While Governor Glenn Youngkin was not in power at the time of the change, CBS 6 asked his office if the governor requested the VMFA, a state owned and operated institution, not to be involved in the project.

"The Youngkin administration was not involved in the decision to remove VMFA from the Reimagine Monument Avenue project, as it was done prior to inauguration," a spokesperson said.

Attempts to reach a former administration official with Governor Ralph Northam were unsuccessful Thursday.

Burks said she could not comment whether the city asked for the VMFA to be removed.

However, she said when Governor Northam transferred ownership of the Lee Circle to the city in December, the VMFA, a state agency, was no longer needed to lead the process.

Meanwhile, Hill considered the VMFA's removal a loss for Monument Avenue.

“I feel like they kind of gracefully entered the conversation with just how they've handled these conversations through art, and they would have been a great resource to see it come to life," Hill said.