FULTON HILL, Virginia (WRIC) – If you ever find yourself in the East End in Richmond, Innovate Fulton will be easy to miss. The nonprofit takes up a small red brick display case on the corner of Williamsburg Road and State Road with several posters in the display case to identify residents.
But inside, the group is working to turn Fulton Hill into a thriving commercial hub, a work that this year earned them recognition as creators of Richmond’s Valentine’s History story for “Demonstrating Innovative Economic Solutions.”
According to President and CEO Chuck D’Aprix, the group came together because they wanted to upgrade the commercial corridor in Fulton, as it had been in other areas of the city in previous years.
D’Aprix has worked as an urban planner for over 35 years, an experience he used in Fulton, “I said,‘ I’ll take this for free in my area ’.
While some areas of Richmond have become shopping destinations for outsiders, D’Aprice said Innovate Fulton’s ambitions are more local.
“For example, our goal №1 now is to attract a coffee shop where people can get together, meet and get together,” he said.
During the pandemic, they focused on rehabilitating old buildings to prepare for the entry of new businesses, in order to find businesses that meet the needs of residents – such as restaurants and commercial stores.
Another major goal is to improve transportation to Fulton Hill.
“Many of our residents do not have cars, and public transport, frankly, in the Great Fulton is limited,” said D’Aprix. “So we’re looking to create a long-term environment for downtown walks.”
Innovate Fulton is in favor of funding the city to expand sidewalks and bike paths, but they are also targeting more ambitious plans.
“We’ve done a few pictures to show them where the Pulse stop might be here, so that when the next round of funding comes, we’ve had a Pulse stop,” D’Aprice said.
Much of their work, according to D’Aprix, simply reminded the city that Fulton existed. He added that he is grateful for the support of City Council member Cynthia Newbil, who represents the area.
But he also noted that the neighborhood was sometimes ignored by city authorities focused on high-profile projects such as Diamond Reconstruction Area.
“There are big projects in the city that they have to deal with. I am convinced that Innovate Fulton is a squeaky wheel and attracts the attention of the city, ”D’Aprix said.
At the same time, he said there are many urban programs that residents are unaware of, such as grants to repair dilapidated buildings. Innovate Fulton intervenes to connect residents to these resources at the state and local levels.
One such project was the creation of a green infrastructure corridor funded by the Chesapeake Bay Program and led by the Alliance for Chesapeake Bay. Under the Chesapeake Bay program, the park-like structure was designed to “capture stormwater runoff, reduce urban heat islands and remove pollutants.”
And D’Aprix said Innovate Fulton’s role was small but important – they just told the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, “We’re here. We will help. “
“Fulton has been ignored for many years by city and state organizations,” D’Aprice said, “but this has not always been the case.”
“We started something called Fulton Fest two years ago, where we closed the street, there were bands, vendors – we really honor the history of the historic Fulton, which was an African-American neighborhood destroyed during the renovation of the city,” said D’Aprice.
In the 1970s, the neighborhood became the site of a so-called “urban rebuilding,” during which city officials destroyed nearly 800 homes and relocated mostly black residents. In return, the city promised new development, but instead neglected the area.
Innovate Fulton seeks to avoid this model of reconstruction, instead focusing on the immediate needs of society. Part of this involves surveying residents to identify projects – such as a coffee shop – that they really want.