You cannot have a conversation about Jackson Ward’s present and future without having a conversation about its past. In many significant ways, JW’s history mirrors the history of the much of the City in the last 75 years. The neighborhood has moved from thriving and relevant (up until the 1950’s) to blighted and depressed (during the last half of the century) and is now trending powerfully in a positive direction.
JW’s location is very important to the city in that it really bridges the gap from Downtown to VCU and touches City Hall, MCV, Historic Broad Street and the Fan. It also touches or contains some of the most important buildings in the City and has been the site of some of the City’s biggest successes and most high profile failures in the recent past.
Many reasons exist for the decline of Jackson Ward from the middle 1960’s until the end of the century and most all touch on highly controversial and divisive subjects within Richmond’s past. For the most part, an individuals age will dictate their opinion on JW and in many ways, their views of Downtown. This view is usually related to the numerous efforts by the City to revitalize Broad Street that failed in rather spectacular fashion due to flawed planning, lack of leadership, unreal assumptions and/or poor execution.
However, in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s the trend began to reverse. While there may be a differing of opinion as to the reason, some combination of VCU’s presence, “Historic Tax Credit” eligibility, strategic location, attractive building stock and general population trends all contributed to a resurgence of the neighborhood. It can also be argued that the quality of leadership in the City began to change and with it, the direction of the City and neighborhoods like Jackson Ward.
Regardless of the reason for the rebirth, the fact remains that JW has enjoyed numerous development successes residentially, commercially and culturally in the past 10 years. Musically, The National, The Hippodrome and Second Street Festival have brought musical acts to Richmond that would have passed us over in years past. The First Friday Art Walk has brought a tremendous exposure to the burgeoning artistic district and galleries such as Quirk and Gallery 5. Several highly successful restaurants (Comfort, Bistro 27, Tarrant’s, Lift) have also significantly upgraded both the casual and fine dining options of the district with several more on the horizon.
Currently, there are still a few high profile buildings left to renovate that will complete the transformation of the remaining blocks that separate the east from the west. Likewise, Monroe Ward/Midtown (JW’s southern neighbors) is moving closer to critical mass with redevelopment of the Historic John Marshall Hotel and the Grace Street corridor. Center Stage is another close-by project that will eventually cement JW and Broad Street as one of the most important entertainment and cultural district in Richmond.