“VCU is an active gentrifier:” student organizations criticize new Master Plan

The One VCU Master Plan projects the future of Monroe Park and MCV campuses. Image courtesy of VCU

Student organizations are speaking out more than a month after the Board of Visitors approved the university’s One VCU Master Plan.

Nathan Land, outreach coordinator for Amnesty International at VCU, said the Master Plan’s expansion “comes with many thorns.”

Land said in an email that VCU uses words like “diversity” and “equity” in their future plans without taking actions that benefit most members of marginalized communities.

“Rather than centering our community for true collaborative efforts, VCU is an active gentrifier,” Land said, “pushing out local businesses like Jamaica House and displacing homeless folks, all while increasing police presence and jurisdiction.”

Jamaica House, on Broad Street near the Grace and Broad Residence Center, was forced to relocate to downtown after the VCU Real Estate Foundation terminated owner Carena Ives’ lease, Ives told Richmond BizSense. Ives opened Jamaica House at its West Broad location in 1994.

“We’ve been at that location for many years, not knowing when they were going to do anything with the property,” Ives told Richmond BizSense. “It’s bittersweet for us … we would have liked to stay at the location, but it’s time for us to move on.”

The One VCU Master Plan, approved March 22 by the Board of Visitors, unifies Monroe Park and MCV campuses and guides their developments over the coming decade. The plan guides the development of VCU Health through increased patient privacy and consolidated hospital services.

On the Monroe Park Campus, the plan includes the demolition of the University Student Commons and T. Edward Temple Building to provide room for a new green space. A new University Student Commons will replace the Thalhimer Tennis Center, located adjacent to Cary Street Gym.

The Young Democratic Socialists of America at VCU said the group is concerned by a lack of community involvement in the master plan.

“[The plan] did not adequately work with the community and evaluate its position as a gentrifying force,” the organization’s page said in a direct message on Twitter. “Besides this, it’s being used as an excuse to consistently raise tuition and create more revenue for the university which has detrimental effects on students.”

The One VCU Master Plan states that more than 176 meetings were held prior to the plan’s passing, ranging from public open houses to one-on-one interviews with deans and senior leadership.

VCU caught strife from some student organizations before the Board of Visitors passed the plan. Free University VCU, a political student organization, held a “Counter-Plan” initiative against the master plan before it passed.

A flyer found on Twitter for the Oct. 30, 2018 event states, “VCU’s ‘Master Plan’ represents the continued extension of university control over the greater Richmond area.”

The flyer states that the plan gentrifies and subjugates the urban space between Monroe Park and MCV. Free University at VCU could not be reached for comment.

Local neighborhoods also find faults in the plan. Oregonhill.net posted an open letter in regard to the One VCU Master Plan in September during the drafting stage of the plan. The website states the letter was sent to Meredith Weiss, vice president for VCU administration.

The letter requests VCU not spread further south of West Cary Street into Oregon Hill Historic District and that VCU limits building heights to three or four stories on the north side of Cary Street. The letter states the neighborhood has not received commitment from the university on these issues.

“Oregon Hill residents have pointed out that since VCU has a Memorandum of Understanding with the distant country of Cuba,” the letter states, “it is perplexing why VCU cannot engage with a Memorandum of Understanding on these two points of neighborhood concern with VCU’s adjacent neighbor, Oregon Hill.”

The plan includes reimagined campus “front doors” and green spaces for both campuses. Streetscapes will extend down Broad and Franklin streets in-between Monroe Park and MCV.

The Master Plan aligns with the university’s existing plans, “Quest 2025: Together We Transform” — which addresses the rising cost of higher education and the school’s goal of national prominence — and VCU Health’s “Vision by Design,” which aims for top-level research, education and health care.

VCU President Michael Rao and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney are optimistic about another city redevelopment project, which encompasses changes to Navy Hill, a neighborhood near the MCV campus. The redevelopment of the Navy Hill district was endorsed by Levar Stoney in November 2018 — projecting a new arena to replace the Coliseum, over 2,000 additional housing units and a new conference and tourism hotel. The plan requires approval from Richmond City Council.

“We highly value VCU’s contributions to the life of our city, and as it continues to prosper and expand its footprint in Richmond,” a spokesperson for Mayor Stoney stated in a press release. “We look forward to productive dialogue with both the university and the Commonwealth of Virginia on the importance of supporting city services.”

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5 Comments

  1. Mr. Land’s comments are articulate and well intentioned but as a Virginia Beach resident and a temporary transplant in Richmond, he lacks a cultural competency and historical context re socioeconomic development in the City of Richmond to be taken seriously with his argument. As VCU/MCV goes and grows, so does the City of Richmond. A great case study is the creation of the University of Washington circa 1860’s as an economic engine for the City of Seattle.

    • Your comments might well have ended when you destroyed any semblance of a point By saying he lacks cultural competency and historical context you just destroyed any credibility you might have had. Jackson Ward is one of the oldest Black neighborhoods in America-its on the historical register. Its the one place in Richmond that has been affordable to black people for over a century, and one of the first centers of commerce in America driven by African Americans, predating the Civil War. Im sort of amazed that you mentioned “cultural competency and historical context”. Im guessing someone who is a Virginia Beach resident wouldn’t know the difference. “Mr. Lands comments are well intentioned and articulate, but….” Thats just brilliant. You can leave, soon, hopefully before you have a chance to effect the future of our city. The historic areas of Virginia Beach are calling you

  2. Great sentiment, but I’m sure anyone involved in this article was a snowflake hipster VCUarts student having their parents pay their rent in Jackson Ward or Carver—sorry but you’re the ‘active gentrifiers’.

  3. Oregon Hill and Jackson Ward folks concerned with gentrification, encroachment on their neighborhoods, and building height excesses, should be aggressively contacting the city council and the mayor and whatever zoning board there is in Richmond. VCU will only pay lip service to citizen groups and then do whatever they feel like. Citizens need actual government/zoning protections backed up by local laws and statutes—not vague non-binding letters of intention or agreement. Those hold no real weight.

  4. Jackson Ward is one of the oldest Black neighborhoods in America-its on the historical register. Its the one place in Richmond that has been affordable to black people for over a century, and one of the first centers of commerce in America driven by African Americans, predating the Civil War.

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