- Associated Press - Sunday, March 23, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The latest budget proposal from Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones offers no new money for the implementation of the city’s Riverfront Plan, which has raised concern among outdoor groups about what the lack of funding could mean for projects such as the Brown’s Island dam walk.

Tammy D. Hawley, the mayor’s press secretary, said the city is hoping to receive $2.5 million in matching funds from the state to supplement the $4 million the city has on hand.

Hawley said the Commonwealth Transportation Board is expected to act at a meeting in June. She said early signs are encouraging that the city will get the money, which is tied to pedestrian-focused projects.

“As such, we are looking at potentially $6.5 million that will be on hand for the continued advancement of this project,” Hawley said. “That is the reason you don’t see new money in the (capital budget) at this time.”

In the past two budget years, the city has allocated almost $5 million in capital funds to help jump-start the Riverfront Plan, an ambitious $60 million endeavor intended to increase access to the river and bolster its role as a lure for the city.

Hawley said Jones pushed for the initial $5 million and that the Riverfront Plan is a priority for him.

The mayor’s budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1 doesn’t mention the plan.

“This is obviously extremely disappointing for the outdoor community,” said Chris Hull, a past president of the James River Outdoor Coalition, who promised a large grass-roots effort to get funding.

The city’s capital budget covers five years of funding for infrastructure projects. Previous budgets did not anticipate any Riverfront Plan funding for fiscal 2015.

Hawley said the administration expects to add more riverfront money in the next budget.

Because the projects are still in their early stages, it’s unclear what could be accomplished with $6.5 million. The plan gives an estimate of $2 million for the dam walk, which would span the James River from Brown’s Island to Manchester, but officials have said the cost would likely be higher. But how much higher is uncertain.

When asked if the $6.5 million would be enough to get the dam walk done by next year, Hawley was noncommittal.

“We haven’t been told it is or isn’t enough,” Hawley said. “But we are prepared to make sure we get the project done.”

Another project, this one centered on Chapel Island, calls for terraced steps to the river and a multiuse path connecting Great Shiplock Park to 14th Street and the eastern end of the pipeline walk.

In a statement earlier this month, the James River Association said additional funding in fiscal 2015 is critical to completing both projects.

“The successful implementation of the Richmond Riverfront Plan is vital to Richmond’s future and will greatly increase the opportunities to enjoy the James and tap its full potential for economic development and improved quality of life,” the statement reads.

Justin Doyle, the outreach manager for the James River Association, said the group was hoping to see more funding to “keep momentum going” for projects that have garnered “broad public support.”

He also questioned the decision to rely on state money to come through.

“As much as the city says that the $2.5 million is virtually guaranteed, nothing is guaranteed until it’s in your pocket,” Doyle said. “That’s a big risk to take.”

Doyle said the group appreciates the mayor’s support of riverfront improvements over the past few years.

“We’re optimistic that we can have an impact on the final budget,” Doyle said.

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Information from: Richmond Times-Dispatch, http://www.timesdispatch.com

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