RICHMOND, Va. - A major initiative aimed at revamping Richmond's historic Monument Avenue has been scrapped even after taxpayer dollars were allotted and used for the project.
Former Governor Ralph Northam announced in 2020 the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts would be in charge of "reimagining Monument Avenue" following the removal of Richmond's Confederate statues.
It was touted as a significant community-driven effort involving historians, urban planners, and artists to redesign historical sites in Richmond.
The General Assembly directed $1 million to the museum in 2021 to develop an initial plan for transforming Monument Avenue.
However, a museum spokesperson, Amy Peck, confirmed to CBS 6 the VMFA hasn't been involved with the project since December.
In an email to CBS 6, Peck wrote, “After the removal of the Lee pedestal, the Commonwealth conveyed the property to the City of Richmond. Since the City now owns all of the property impacted by this project, it alone will determine the next steps for the transformation of Monument Avenue."
Peck added that the VMFA was not consulted by the Commonwealth or City of Richmond on the decision.
This comes after Peck said the VMFA was hiring staff to work on the program in September.
Peck said the VMFA spent $103,130.85 to develop a timeline and plan and will return the remaining funds to the state.
The update also came as a shock to councilmember Kristen Nye who said she was still under the impression that the VMFA was leading the redesign efforts. She said the council was not briefed on the change.
CBS 6 sent an email to a City of Richmond spokesperson on Wednesday morning with several questions regarding the future of Monument Avenue including what the city plans to do next with the area.
As of Wednesday evening, the city has not responded to the inquiry.
Gardens, grassy areas and pavement have replaced the spaces where confederate statues once stood.
The Lee Circle remains blocked off, and Taylor Chesney, who lives across the street, said he would like to see the area opened back up to the public so people can gather there once again.
“There were people out playing checkers and a basketball hoop set up, and so it's really cool. I think they even had a community garden, and so it definitely made it feel like a lot more of a community here," Chesney said.
Chesney called the fencing and barricades surrounding the Lee Circle an "eyesore" and questioned when it would be removed.
Meanwhile, VCU student Amel Aksough, said she is satisfied to see what the city has done with Monument Avenue so far but hopes bigger projects are planned for the future.
“Personally, I think that we got rid of some history, and we made new history," Aksough said. "The beauty of living in a city is being able to see and be an active member in what's going on."
Other taxpayer costs associated with Monument Avenue included:
- $1.8 million spent by the City of Richmond to remove city-owned statues
- An additional $1.5 million expected to be spent by the City of Richmond to remove pedestals and A.P. Hill
- $2.1 million spent by the state to remove the Lee statue
Ownership of confederate statues already taken down was transferred to the Black History Museum.
When asked about the next steps for those statues, a spokesperson wrote, "While it is premature to discuss specific plans for the monuments, we appreciate that the public is curious. BHMVA staff are currently planning for the first phase of community education and engagement about this unique issue, with assistance from our partner, The Valentine. We hope everyone will visit soon and often, as we have several traveling exhibits coming and going, and we will have several reveals in the months ahead."