The University of Richmond chose to not renew the lease for the UR Downtown site and permanently closed the Richmond on Broad Cafe in summer 2020.
The cafe closed permanently on June 25 after closing temporarily in the spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Crenshaw said.
The UR Downtown lease will expire in July 2021, said Anthony Crenshaw, director of operations and strategic initiatives for the Center for Civic Engagement. Until then, UR Downtown will continue to operate, hosting virtual events this fall and hoping to return to in-person programming in the spring before the lease ends, Crenshaw said.
UR Downtown will also continue its support of the United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg Tax Assistance Program, through which volunteers, who are mostly students, offer free tax preparation to community members, Crenshaw said.
The decision to not renew the lease of the space at 626 E. Broad St. was made by Executive Vice Presidents David Hale and Jeffrey Legro in consultation with UR president Ronald Crutcher, Crenshaw wrote in an Aug. 24 email to The Collegian.
Cafe employees were notified in May of the permanent closing, former cafe manager and chef Matt Lee wrote in an email to The Collegian on Aug. 10. The cafe employed four full-time and four part-time employees, he wrote. UR allowed each employee to find other jobs on campus, he wrote.
“As you can imagine, the staff at [the cafe], myself included, felt a wide range of emotions ranging from sadness to concern," Lee wrote. "But we understood the decision not to reopen in light of the current pandemic and the resulting economic impact to the restaurant industry."
Although UR did not renew the building's lease, UR is still committed to engaging with the community, according to the UR Downtown website.
“Over the next year, UR staff will examine how we can leverage the many successes of UR Downtown throughout the last decade, embrace the goals of the 2017 vision plan and enhance distinctive learning offerings in a possible future iteration of a cross-school place-based hub for community engagement,” the UR Downtown website states.
A strategy council made up of those directly involved with the work of UR Downtown will meet this fall to figure out what is next for UR Downtown after the closure of its current space, Crenshaw said.
“Personally, I am a big proponent of there being a physical location, but I think that's something that the committee is going to have to decide," Crenshaw said. "Like, 'In order to do [be engaged with the Richmond community], what things do we need to have?"
The current space downtown was an ideal location but had a closed floor plan with segmented sections that were not conducive to the collaborative purpose of the space, Crenshaw said. There had been a debate between renovating the current space or possibly finding a new one, Crenshaw said.
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Before the pandemic, Crenshaw said there had been discussions to figure out how to better integrate UR Downtown and the Richmond on Broad Cafe.
UR Downtown is the physical representation of UR’s commitment to the community and helps overcome the common perception that UR is exclusive and detached from the city of Richmond, Crenshaw said.
“I am hopeful that in the next iteration of whatever this thing turns out to be, [that UR's] commitment will be just as clear to the community,” Crenshaw said.
UR Downtown student employees were told about UR Downtown's lease in the middle of the summer in what felt like a farewell email, junior Nadia Iqbal said.
Iqbal is a UR Downtown coordinator who, in her role, writes about local government, city council and school board meetings for RVAGOV. Iqbal, who said she had been a coordinator since her first year, said that she had been given little information and say in the decision making. Other student coordinators at UR Downtown put together events, programming and exhibits, Iqbal said.
From conversations she has had with those she worked with at UR Downtown, Iqbal said she thought COVID-19 had contributed to the decision to not renew the lease. Iqbal speculates that the UR administration realized the funds being used for the space on East Broad Street were not enough to suit its goals to cultivate relationships with the community and that the funds could be used elsewhere, Iqbal said.
Although there is a discussion about finding another building that will suit UR Downtown better, Iqbal said it did not seem like a high priority given the COVID-19 pandemic.
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