Town and Gowns: VSU and the revitalization of Ettrick

Virginia State University is coming on strong. Once considered part of Petersburg, Chesterfield set them off into a corner beyond Ettrick. But things have been changing; VSU has become a microcosm of Virginia Commonwealth University; spreading its wings and planning revitalization of the community around it.

Blocks of houses along Ettrick’s Chesterfield Avenue, Dupuy Avenue and Second and Third streets have given way to bulldozers and dump trucks. Area residents seemed to be up in arms about the changes but have calmed down and are realizing that their town might just get a little bit better.

The expansion of VSU is due to an exploding student population. Currently the student enrollment is 6,000, but that could grow to 10,000 by 2018.

Katherine Busser, Director of Virginia State Board and Executive Vice President of bank operations at Capital One, said there are big things in the Chesterfield/Virginia State relationship like the revitalization project but also small things.

“We hope the Convocation Center will be a showpiece not only for Virginia State but for Chesterfield County,” Ms. Busser said. “The level of support that Chesterfield County gave Virginia State when unfortunately we lost two of our freshman students due to the drowning in the Appomattox River was just unprecedented. I came to thank you.”

The Urban Land Institute (ULI), founded in 1936 represent the entire spectrum of land use real estate development. In February the organization conducted a Technical Assistance Program (TAP) bringing together experts in the real estate and development communities. Murial Rodriguez presented the results, last week, of the TAP study.

“The enthusiasm from that team was very contagious and they would really like to build something very unique and something very special,” said Matoaca District Supervisor Steve Elswick. “To be able to take a town and a college together is something they don’t see every day. We have to move slow and methodical, but I think we’re going to be very proud of what we do at Virginia State.”

The student Convocation Center, which will be the first project that Virginia State will build will hold 6,500 people and will be used as a multipurpose facility for sports, concerts and graduations. It will be located between the current Second and Third streets and will anchor the rest of the development and revitalization of the Ettrick Village.

Both Chesterfield and Virginia State are excited about the improved relationship between the two entities.

“I don’t have to talk about Chesterfield and its relationship with Virginia State. But what I will say is it’s all about the people, the relationships that we have with each other, that’s what makes the difference,” said Dr. Keith Miller, President of Virginia State. “We’re working well together; we get along well, we respect each other and we like each other. If there is anything we can do at Virginia State to help Chesterfield County, we’re certainly willing to do that.”

Following the construction of the Convocation Center, phase two will involve the redevelopment of Chesterfield Avenue. Retail centers will line the street in a new urbanism style with retail establishments on the ground level and market rate apartment on the second level.

Two specific corners will be considered retail centers, and a pedestrian walkway will connect the University to the services along Chesterfield Avenue.

The large parking area that is needed for the Convocation Center will be visually minimized by liner buildings and landscaping. The apartments above the retail on Chesterfield Avenue will not be dormitories. According to Rodriguez, the dormitory phase has been completed, but as the campus community grows to 10,000, housing will be needed.

Rodriguez said, there is a hotel planned, a park and additional apartment development planned to be built by free market developers. And the current Ettrick train station is an integral part of the success of the overall project.

We do appreciate the relationship we have with VA State and see it as an integral part of the community and an anchor on the southern end of the community.

“As I travel the country I see how what you are doing is leading the country,” said Jim Holland Dale District Supervisor. Dan Gecker, Supervisor of the Midlothian District added that he likes the idea of a “towns and gowns” approach to the revitalization project. Although not in Chesterfield, Mr. Gecker is a developer, as well.

But Ettrick Village will not be left out. An architectural pattern book, with guidelines for design and construction materials, to preserve the existing historic character and history will be available, according to TAP panel results. 


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