Branding Shockoe Bottom
By: Brian Chandler, president of Commonwealth PR
Shockoe Bottom is not what I thought it was.
After the Corrugated Box Building in Manchester got too tight for our company and our growth, we lucked into a great new space in Shockoe Bottom at 2001 E. Franklin Street (between 20th and 21st Streets). To be honest, in the five years that I’ve lived in Richmond, I haven’t spent much time in the Bottom, except for occasionally driving through. However, when it came to finding a new office location, I was forced to take a close look at the area and make some decisions.
My perception, and potentially the perception of many in Richmond, was wrong and here’s why.
Before I moved to Richmond, Charlotte, NC was home for about 10 years. The city, given the name “Queen City” is branded as young, professional, clean, safe, and thriving. It’s where you wanted to be. Charlotte’s downtown is called “Uptown.” There are multiple professional and minor league sports teams. My perception of a city, any city in fact, was based on my experience in Charlotte.
When I first moved to Richmond, I remember sitting around a table at lunch with several individuals from CBS 6 talking about Charlotte. One person had recently been to the NCAA basketball tournament there and commented on how wonderful the city’s downtown area was. I responded with a question: “Will Richmond ever be perceived like that?” Another person immediately responded: “I will never go downtown. It’s not safe and it’s dirty.”
I believe this person’s response is still one that is very real with people in and around Richmond. It’s also the problem that is holding us back from achieving the brand that the city’s economic development office, and others concerned with the growth of our city, needs to be able to recruit and retain thriving businesses, retail locations, restaurants and residents.
But we’re on our way!
Now that we’re settled into our new office, we have come to find a wealth of great venues, restaurants, retail locations and more, within walking distance. The only problem is it took us moving to the area to notice it. Why is the beauty and character of Shockoe Bottom so hidden to people in Short Pump, Chesterfield and Midlothian? It’s a question worth asking, but one that goes back to branding the area.
Remember, a brand is not a logo or sign, but a perception, attitude, or feeling that a company, organization or person comes to associate with something.
A quick Google search reveals that we’re moving in the right direction. The Shockoe Economic Revitalization Strategy is a study conducted to provide a strategic framework for future revitalization actions. According to the report, the primary emphasis of the effort is on sustainable economic development strategies to enhance Shockoe’s role in the greater city and regional economy. This is an implementation-oriented strategy designed to provide the tools for creating a distinct place blending historic character with 21st century amenities. I found several interesting factors in the report that speak to the brand that Shockoe Bottom is struggling to disassociate itself with.
Finally, I would be remiss without mentioning the city’s effort to build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom. I have heard good arguments for and against building it in the area, but honestly believe it could help shape the future of Shockoe Bottom and downtown in a way that has more and more people moving their business, homes, restaurants and retail venues downtown.
I’m challenging you to take off your suburban blinders and drive into the Bottom. Make your way down Canal, Franklin, Main and Broad. Spend some time noticing the amount of new development and construction work that is taking place. See if you recognize the names of the corporate business’ and restaurants that have made the area their home.
Now is the time to join us, Commonwealth Public Relations, and others such as Ernst & Young, Glave & Holmes Architecture, The Frontier Project, Hirschler Fleischer Law, and many more, brand the future of Shockoe Bottom.