Soft-spoken Petersburg mayor pushes hard sell

PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) — Petersburg Mayor W. Howard Meyers may be soft-spoken, but he is pushing a hard sell for his adopted city.

“We’re re-branding. We need to represent what the city is about, historically, and foundationally,” said Meyers.

He began by shifting the foundations at City Hall.

After fellow council members elected him Mayor in January 2015, Meyers assembled a new team. With new City Manager William Johnson III, Meyers introduced a new marketing campaign called “I Am Petersburg.”

It revolves around his faith in the city’s 33,000 residents. They charmed Meyers when he moved to Petersburg 13 years ago. Today he considers his citizens his greatest asset.

“It’s very welcoming. People might not think so but it really is,” he explained. “You have some of the bad things on the news but they’re isolated incidents. We have a lot of wonderful people here.”

Meyers is concerned that too few people know about Petersburg’s restaurants, museums, and a growing slate of cultural events.

The city may also be able to attract tourism with Civil Rights era attractions. Petersburg’s bus station, used by Freedom Riders, has just been added to Virginia’s Historic Registry. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited the city more than a dozen times.

A key to any development will be leveraging Petersburg’s proximity to Interstate 95. More than 100,000 cars a day pass Exit 52.

Meyers wants them all to stop and see the city.

The administration is negotiating with developers to create a hotel or service area on lots it controls at Exit 52. High-speed rail may also be in the city’s long-term future.

In the meantime, Meyers is frank about facing daunting challenges. His top concerns are workforce, employment, poverty, and health care.

State funding is also an issue for Meyers, who claims the Democratic stronghold is overlooked by the Republican-dominated General Assembly.

“I can see other jurisdictions receiving large, large amounts of money and Petersburg just doesn’t receive that,” he said.

Despite the challenges, Meyers is unfailingly optomistic. He jokes, “In five years, you’re not going to be able to afford to live here. You have to see beyond the disrepair and see what love you can provide.

“To me, this is a great city to live, work, and play.”

Meyers says he is dedicated to getting rest of Central Virginia to feel the same way.

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