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Planning commission gives Walker statue final oK

7/22/2016, 12:13 p.m.
Coming soon: The statue and memorial plaza honoring Richmond great Maggie L. Walker at a gateway to the historical African-American ...
Work on the 6,600-square-foot plaza at Adams and Broad streets for the Maggie L. Walker statue is expected to begin within two months.

Coming soon: The statue and memorial plaza honoring Richmond great Maggie L. Walker at a gateway to the historical African-American section of Downtown known as Jackson Ward.

Capping 18 months of talks, review and discussion, the Richmond Planning Commission sealed the deal Monday by approving the location and design of the memorial plaza in which the statue will stand at the current intersection of Brook Road and Adams and Broad streets to salute the pioneering woman.

Mrs. Walker has long been among the most admired Richmond figures for the role she played. As the leader of a fraternal group, she battled bigotry and other crippling conditions at a time when women, at best, had second class status. Her greatest achievement came in 1903 when she became the first woman to found and lead a bank to take savings and make loans to promote betterment of the African-American community.

Her statue will be the first the city has created to honor a woman and the second statue in Richmond honoring a woman. The first is a tribute to civil rights activist Barbara Johns that the state developed in Capitol Square.

With a unanimous vote, the Planning Commission, which has the final say on public art, cleared the way for the city to spend up to $660,000 in taxpayer funds to develop the plaza where the statue will stand.

The approval of the plaza plan, which assures the project will move forward, is a triumph for Mayor Dwight C. Jones at a time when he is struggling to keep the city’s budget in balance.

Two years ago, he spearheaded the effort to use public funds to make this project happen.

While some critics still question the cost and site, the mayor issued a statement after the voting calling the Planning Commission’s action “gratifying.”

“The vision for the Maggie L. Walker statue and this project has been under discussion for quite some time. ... This is right for our city, our state and our country,” stated Mayor Jones.

He won support from Richmond City Council to make this a city project in 2014, four years after the council had approved a statue

proposal but only if it was supported by private donations.

“I have no words. I am overwhelmed,” said Melvin Jones, a Maggie L. Walker High School alumnus who has lobbied for seven years to secure a statue honoring Mrs. Walker.

Work on the plaza is expected to begin within two months and possibly to be com- pleted by December, city officials said.

Though depicted in white in renderings, the approved design calls for the plaza to be of green granite inset with five darker bands of granite. The plaza is to feature gray granite benches and three trees.

The live oak tree now growing on the site is to be removed, and a short section of Brook Road is to be closed to make room for the 6,600-square-foot plaza, ac- cording to the approved plan.

Among those happy about the vote is the statue’s sculptor, Antonio “Toby” Men- dez of Maryland, who has been involved with the plaza design, along with VBH, a Massachusetts-based firm.