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BridgePark: A Brief History

Ted Elmore

May 4, 2018 10:04am

We spend countless hours with our community’s young people talking about the process of tackling a
new idea, so we thought it useful to share with the rest of you how BridgePark has tried to chart a careful
process as advocates for the community. Below is a brief summary of the bold steps to date. We have so enjoyed this ride with Richmond.

In March 2012, local leaders Mike Hughes (at the time, President of The Martin Agency), and Ella Kelley
wrote a letter to the editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch suggesting that the soon-to-be-demolished
Huguenot Bridge would “make quite a park.” The two were inspired by the wildly successful High Line in
New York and our own iconic river and culture. It was an overwhelmingly popular idea. However, plans
to remove the old bridge in favor of a new one were too far apace to reverse.

The ruins of the Richmond-Petersburg Railroad bridge. Credit: CPJ Photography

Later that year, Mike, Ella, and a team of local advocates reoriented around a site downtown and formed a private foundation to further advance the idea. Many experts across Virginia, including architects, designers, marketing experts, planners, and city staff contributed time and other resources to plans for the proposed park.

Richmond Bridgepark Foundation envisioned an adaptive reuse of the powerful ruins of the 1838 Richmond-Petersburg Railroad Bridge, a site just below the Manchester Bridge and downstream of the Dam Walk later proposed in the City’s Riverfront Plan. The idea was to erect a new bridge deck on top of the old piers. Again, the community embraced this novel ideation to increase river access and the sheer beauty of this site.

Throughout 2013 and beyond, the Foundation undertook an extensive community engagement effort to
share the BridgePark concept with hundreds of community members, receiving valuable feedback from
many of our most dedicated leaders and river stewards.

In December of 2013, on a pair of somber Sunday mornings, Mike and Ella left this life and left us with a
weighty responsibility to embrace the extraordinary with the same boldness and love that they did.
The following year, The Foundation leaned into its founders’ audacity and began thinking even bigger
about the opportunity BridgePark could present for our City. BridgePark hired local engineering firm,
The Timmons Group, and local architecture firm, Spatial Affairs Bureau (SAB), to first examine the
community’s input from these 18 months of meetings, then collect data and analyze the proposed
BridgePark site with that advice in mind. The study considered the existing conditions and opportunities
provided by the natural landscape alongside the stated wants and needs of the community.

Ted Elmore gives a presentation about the BridgePark. Credit: Collegiate School

That study also had the goal of probing the idea of repurposing the ruined pillars and, in so doing, unlocking the greatest potential for BridgePark. What is the absolute best opportunity for our city with this site?

As a design and community engagement tool, SAB built a 14’ long, 4’ wide scale model of the proposed site based in part on the survey prepared by The Timmons Group. The model has been used to engage the community in maximizing BridgePark’s vision.

During the ideas study, more than 30 city departments and community organizations tested the model
with the architecture team to provide feedback for the final recommendations of the study. Preliminary
study results were then presented to over 100 stakeholders, gathering another round of comments.

The Foundation then hosted three open community meetings in 2015 to outline the ideas and receive
further reactions and suggestions. In total, the model has been displayed in 10 different locations throughout the city. Displays prompt fascinated stares, pointed questions, and critical feedback. And, for several days when we weren’t looking, a creative Richmonder posted a coterie of sea monsters below the model of the bridge.

Of the many ideas presented by our design team, the community was by far most attracted to the
potential of “parking” on a portion of the Manchester Bridge along 9th Street downtown. That space
would offer a city-level park reminiscent of the original High Line prompt, preserve views of the stunning
and historically significant ruins, avoid building in the River, complement the proposed river-level Dam
Walk, unlock the adjoining Kanawha Plaza, create cost and construction efficiencies over repurposing
the ruins, reduce the city’s carbon footprint, and make strong direct connections to destinations within
the city, all at the same grade.

‘What If’ cards… Credit: Chris Marcussen Photography

The Foundation then went to work tenfold at further developing this idea with the community,
launching yet another extensive community engagement process around the concept, including
speaking engagements with our consultants and staff, hundreds more meetings, several student-led studies and workshops, cards inviting collaboration, panels, and programs. The idea became more
popular than ever. BridgePark began planning and fundraising for its next phase

In September of 2016, Kanawha Plaza, an identified opportunity in the BridgePark plan, underwent a cleanup and renovation that could pave the way for a larger vision.

In December of 2016, the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge (aka the Dam Walk, aka the T-Pott)
opened upstream of the BridgePark site, creating a dramatic river-level crossing of the James. The T-Pott
immediately drew record crowds of crossers to the riverfront.

In February of 2018, the Foundation launched Phase Two of architecture and engineering for the
project, reengaging SAB and hiring structural engineering and planning firm Buro Happold to further test
and refine the project, again with the community’s input in mind. Receipt of Phase Two’s master plan
and results will prompt a fourth round of community engagement, so look out for those announcements. The much-loved model will go back on tour. Only this time, it will need larger venues. BridgePark is first and foremost a park for the community by the community. To date, we have involved a wide array of Richmonders with intention, favored stewardship over speed, responsiveness over rigidity, and thoughtfulness over ease.

Similarly, this series seeks to inform the public and create a dialogue that improves the project. We ask
you to read and respond, and, in so doing, continue to help us elevate RVA. Write us at info@bridgeparkrva.com.


About Ted Elmore

Ted Elmore is an avid James River lover and user who is also passionate about design, urban spaces, and celebrating the richness of Richmond. After 15 years of practicing law at Hunton & Williams, he now leads the ambitious BridgePark project, an innovative public park plan that would create a dramatic new green space with breathtaking views of the James River and downtown Richmond. Ted serves on the Board of GroundworkRVA, Studio Two Three, and Current Art Fair. He has also written for RVANews, Grid Magazine, and The Cheats Movement.


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