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Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)

Virginia State University broke ground Friday on an $84 million multipurpose center that school and Chesterfield County officials say not only will transform the university but also the community around it.

VSU President Keith T. Miller told a crowd of about 300 packed into a tent for the groundbreaking that the 165,941-square-foot center will help boost the school's fortunes while serving as a catalyst for revitalization of the area, especially the village of Ettrick.

"As it's being built, make sure you remember what it really stands for. It stands for a united community, that's what it's about," he said. "That's what I'd like you to remember."

The center is expected to open in the fall of 2015 and will include classrooms, a wellness center and practice facilities for several sports. It will provide space for concerts, conventions and graduations.

Friday's groundbreaking was only ceremonial. Work on clearing the land began about two weeks ago, and the initial site work has begun.

The facility will be built between Chesterfield Avenue and East River Road on property the university has been acquiring for a few years.

"Breaking ground for the multipurpose center is huge in its own right. But it's much bigger than that," said Steve A. Elswick, vice chairman of Chesterfield's Board of Supervisors. "It's the kickoff of revitalization for the university, for South Chesterfield and for the village of Ettrick."

As the center is going up, a mixed-use development will be built along Chesterfield Avenue that will include retail on the first floor and apartments on the top floors.

Robert Turner, executive director of the Virginia State University Foundation, which is partnering in the venture, said construction could begin in the spring. He said an effortis underway to identify retailers to occupy the space.

Elswick said the county's Planning Commission is expected to take up the proposalthis month, and the Board of Supervisors could see it early next year.

In addition to the construction, River Road will be widened from two to four lanes from Chesterfield Avenue to Martin Luther King Drive. The project will include a landscaped median, decorative lighting and wide pedestrian sidewalks.

Elswick said the widening is neededto make the center more accessible.

"This promises to be the first step in the transformation of the Ettrick community," said Harry Black, who is on the school's board of visitors. "For so long, this part of Chesterfield has held so much potential and promise. Today, we see the potential literally springing from the ground."

Ettrick is a quiet burg that's seen better days. A few shops share empty streets and sidewalks along Chesterfield Avenue. The rest of the village is not much better, with a few locally owned shops, a train stationand a small shopping center with a Food Lion, a dollar store and a Chinese restaurant.

"I've been in Chesterfield for 44 years, and we have never had anything like this happen in southern Chesterfield," Black said. "This is so monumental. This is going to be the springboard that puts this area on the map."

(804) 649-6348

Twitter: @LouisLLovio


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December 17, 2013




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