More fear, more loathing

More fear, more loathing


You’re Frank Lucente, and you’re having a bad day. Maybe you’re losing an argument on live TV. You know you’re not making any sense, but that TV has been your friend. You’ve fake-cried into it enough the past couple of years that you should get nominated for an Emmy. You can’t risk having it turned on you now.

So what do you do?

Blame it on the Wayne. Obviously.

“One side of the street, the Wayne Theatre owns the whole street except this building. That’s half of the whole thing,” Lucente said at a City Council work session Wednesday night by way of explaining why he doesn’t support having the city finish what it started nearly 10 years ago with regard to improvements to the streetscape in Downtown Waynesboro.

For those who don’t come downtown much these days because there isn’t much to see or do, it took until early 2006 for the actual bricks-and-mortar work on phase one of the planned two-phase project, focusing on the two-block area of West Main Street between Arch Avenue and Wayne Avenue, to get under way. It was essentially completed by the end of 2006, if you want to call ending work on the project before the finishing touches were wrapped essentially completed.

Chief among the problems encountered by the city along the way was the decision to do the work on the cheap by using city public-works crews instead of hiring an outside contractor, which added a significant amount of time to the project and also took the public-works crews away from other work that they could be doing – and deprived a private contractor the chance to put its own work crew together and give it some work to flow more of the dollars spent on the work into the local economy.

It was assumed that work on phase two along West Main from Wayne Avenue to Church Street would get going sometime in 2007 or 2008, but as it turns out now we learn from City Manager Mike Hamp this week that the staff had since turned its attention from the streetscape project to the South River Greenway project whose history in terms of the planning work done on it dates back to the same late 1990s time frame when we first heard the words downtown streetscape in Waynesboro.

Both were subjects of an application for Transportation Enhancement Act for the 21st Century – TEA-21 – monies in 1999. Both projects won the requisite state and federal approvals and were made recipients of grant monies. About $600,000 remains from the original TEA-21 grants and a 2007 general-obligation bond to fund work on the projects.

The streetscape project is much closer to being a reality. Even worst-case scenario, with city work crews taking another year to get the work done, we’re that year plus the additional time, probably another year to 18 months, that it would take to get the necessary reapprovals from the Virginia Department of Transportation to get things moving forward again.

The greenway is a different beast entirely. Even assuming things going as smoothly as possible, we’re at least a year from getting any dirt turned, and considering what I’ve been hearing from City Hall regarding the idea for using the same on-the-cheap approach that worked so well for us on phase one of streetscape, using parks and rec crews in the place of public-works crews, God only knows how long it would take us to see the planned first phase of the project running from Main Street downtown to Wayne Avenue near the Waynesboro YMCA to completion.

The only advantage to doing the greenway first, honestly, is that the Wayne Theatre is nowhere near the river.

“Do Main to Wayne to give the people a chance to see what that would be like. We’ve engineered it, we’ve spent money. I can’t tell you how much time staff has spent trying to negotiate and get the deals done with Invista and DuPont,” Lucente offered as reasoning in support of going greenway at Wednesday night’s work session, before adding, “I’m just saying that’s what the people want.”

I’m wondering who he has been talking to. To give Lucente some benefit of the doubt, he was out of the loop back when the greenway was a hot topic in the 1990s. I remember several heated public meetings on the greenway that brought out dozens of property owners along the proposed path who made it clear in no uncertain terms that they would fight the city from building a greenway using any means necessary.

People like Lucente who weren’t around for those, ahem, deliberations might be mistaking the calm and silence regarding the greenway today for acquiescence and acceptance, but they’re deluding themselves if they do. I found that out last spring doing door-to-door campaigning in several Tree Streets neighborhoods along the proposed greenway path, getting several loud and passionate earfuls for my troubles a couple of especially fun Saturday afternoons.

“My logic on the greenway is we’ve been talking about a greenway for 10 years,” Lucente continued his case, conveniently ignoring the 10 years spent on the streetscape, whose plans sprang out of the most recent and only even mildly successful to date downtown-revitalization effort in a city that has been springing downtown-revitalization efforts every few years dating back to 1962

“We’ve got the streetscape basically finished downtown. And we’ve still got a lot of empty buildings,” Lucente said a little later, playing another card that he likes to palm when the hand seems to be working against his favor.

When the going gets tough, trash the heart of the city.

And then when all else fails, mutter something sensical or otherwise involving the words tax and increase and exit stage left.

“We talk one day about how we’ve got to raise taxes, and we don’t have any money, and the next day, we’ve got $400,000, we’ve got to get this streetscape done. You know, there’s so many problems out there …” Lucente began another rant.

For the record, he didn’t break down into tears this time around.

It’s not that the act has gone stale. That much has been clear since Lucente had his wings clipped by his backers after the series of missteps last summer that led to the sacking of Doug Walker as city manager and the departures of several other top city staffers.

No, it’s that things aren’t getting done. Streetscape. The greenway. The downtown wall, eight months after we proposed a solution here on the pages of the AFP. A year and counting on filling the vacant economic-development director position.

The going is getting tough again. Cue the fake tears and Wayne Theatre slur.


– Column by Chris Graham



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