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Ted Elmore + Bridge Park: Culture, Beauty, & Community

ConversationElizabeth SobkaComment

We recently visited Ted Elmore in his home to talk more about the groundbreaking BridgePark project, art, and what he loves about Richmond. Upon entering the Park Avenue rowhouse, it’s impossible to ignore that Ted’s eye for design goes beyond parks and community spaces and weaves its way into every piece in his home and many of his thoughts.

Ted Elmore was born in Louisiana, but moved to Richmond when he was just four years old. Since then, he has made Richmond his true home and has worked to make the city a more vibrant place to live and work.

After graduating from law school at the University of Virginia, he returned to Richmond to work as a corporate finance attorney, but after a debilitating mountain biking accident that left him with a ruptured disk, he decided to take some time off from law. Elmore didn’t use this break as “down time” though. Instead, he took the opportunity to get involved in the community. It was then that he joined the BridgePark team at the encouragement of Matt Rho from Shockoe Atelier and Hilton Graham of Mountain High Media.

“I believe the BridgePark idea uniquely reflects who we are as a community and as a culture,” says Elmore. He hadn’t been working with the BridgePark board for long when they recognized his particular passion for the project and asked him to become President of the non-profit foundation. For the past two years he’s hustled all over the city, working hard to involve community advocates, government officials, artists, engineers, and architects to get this project done.

 

Photograph by Kate Magee for Grid Magazine | Model by Spatial Affairs Bureau

Photograph by Kate Magee for Grid Magazine | Model by Spatial Affairs Bureau

BridgePark’s mission is to create a unique public gathering space that spans the James River downtown. The project is inspired by The High Line in New York City, a nearly one and a half mile long linear park in Manhattan built on an elevated section of abandoned railway. That project was inspired by Promenade Plantee in Paris. The High Line is now a wildly popular park for pedestrians, public art, and civic engagement and has sparked several similar new spaces around the world. However, BridgePark in Richmond is the only project of its kind that can be built over urban whitewater (the James River).

 

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“Our unique landscape provides an opportunity no other City has. It also builds on our two greatest strengths: a culture of creativity and the beauty of the James River,” says Elmore.

Elmore has engaged tons of community members to get this project off the ground and has also pulled in experts such as architecture firm, Spatial Affairs Bureau, and principal, Peter Culley of the VMFA renovation and several other high profile designs. The team also hired local engineering firm, The Timmons Group, works with The Martin Agency, and leans on numerous local advisors and experts. The current plan is to use a portion of the Manchester Bridge as an anchor for the park to bring the community one-of-a-kind views and truly connect the two sides of the City.

The next step is to work with traffic and structural engineers to see what kind of build out the bridge can maintain, and design ways to make the park pedestrian and bike friendly in the midst of a busy part of town. Elmore notes this location is somewhat ironic because “originally the Manchester bridge was built to get people out of Richmond as fast as possible. Now we want to stay and enjoy the city, so we’ve flipped the script of that bridge. We want to create a space where people linger with the beauty of the river and the beauty of each other.”

 


As we talk to Elmore about creating new spaces and enhancing the culture of Richmond, the conversation turns to our immediate environment. Impressive pieces of art hang from the walls, and every piece of mid-century modern furniture is perfectly curated. Elmore is particularly interested in Virginia artists such as Richard Roth, Sally Mann, Mickael Broth, Alyssa Salomon and more, as well as some pieces of African art that he’s collected during his travels.

 

The furniture and decor have that swanky Mad Men feel, including the Barcelona chairs we sat in during the interview. Mid-century collectors would swoon over his original Eames rockers, George Nelson X-leg dining table, and Saarinen tulip coffee table, just to name a few of the enviable, vintage pieces. Elmore can name the designer or artist of each piece and tell a story about it – you realize that every object he allows into his home is important to him and was carefully chosen.

“What I’ve learned from art and design has shaped my perception of cities and public spaces. The artists whose creations fill my house also fill my mind with ideas and challenges. It’s inspiring and engaging to think about your world in a different way, and that’s what art makes you do. I believe BridgePark can do the same for our region. I view beauty as a value, whether a painting, a building, a bridge, or a landscape – aesthetic excellence and thoughtfulness is a value that inspires and uplifts us – I think it’s a universal. We benefit from so much beauty in Richmond.”

Elmore has taken a leap from the corporate world to the creative community, but his business background certainly informs and benefits the project. You can sense his balance of pragmatism andimagination both in watching BridgePark develop and in sitting in his carefully considered yet intensely contemporary home. While the project proceeds in a calculated manner, he frequently cites the influence of artists and other makers he admires and his desire to continue to leverage Richmond’s wealth of creative talent in crafting the BridgePark project.

“Belle Isle Craft Spirits is a perfect example of the energy that exists here- they’ve followed their passion to create a product that is not only of the utmost quality, but that adds yet another layer to the rich fabric of our collective culture. Makers like Alex, Vince, and Brian raise the bar, bring people together, and inspire other creatives. We have an obligation to continue to uplift the culture and improve each others’ lives, whether you are making art, coffee, beer, bikes, businesses, bridges, moonshine, an innovative non-profit, or music – when you’re making those things, you’re contributing to why Richmond is awesome. I like to think about what each new cultural object is making possible that wasn’t possible before.”

Everyone here at Belle Isle is excited to see what BridgePark can make possible right here in Richmond. To learn more about the project or to get involved, visit their website: http://www.bridgeparkrva.com/