This is a difficult piece to write. I’m not going to skirt around this fact. When the Hippodrome reopened three years ago I was as excited as anyone. The theater known as “The Hipp” was an historical institution in historic Jackson Ward. The Hippodrome was the epicenter of what was known as “The Harlem of the South.” To have this beacon of our community back at full tilt, along with the adjoining, revamped, Taylor Mansion, was a dream come true.
When the Hippodrome reopened, it was done by private funding through its owner Ronald Stallings, historical tax incentives and a city of Richmond investment (taxpayers money) of around $600,000. According to Style Weekly, the money was broken down this way: The Hipp received $600,000 (part grant, part loan) from the city, as well as a reported $2.8 million in state and federal tax credits, $4.7 million from investors and $3.8 million in loans. This over a half million subsidy by the city was very controversial, as is anything the city does. Personally it was worth it to me because it was vital this historic theater reach the grand allure it once had, and the fact it helped with the revitalization of Jackson Ward in downtown Richmond.
I think many of you already know about the history of the Hippodrome, so I’ll get right to my point. The Hippodrome is a beautiful theater run by a two-bit snake named Ronald Stallings. Stallings, who is black, yet folks of all races could give a shit. He’s a first and foremost, first class asshole. Since bands of all genres have been playing at the Hippodrome since its reopening, many have refused to play there ever again. Everything from being ripped off to the way they were treated has many bands/musicians and even promoters running from ever having anything to do with that place again. What Stallings, a deal estate developer, doesn’t get is the fact he doesn’t know shit on how to run a venue. He thinks he does because he owns it, but he doesn’t. He feels hes in charge of everything, including the organizers of the events held there. Um no, they are renting from you, not asking you to run THEIR business. Stallings, who likes to bend the truth, gets all jacked up at how he can act anyway he likes because he’s got the city behind him. Or does he? This reminds me of the doctor who owned Toad’s Place. We all know how that ended up.
Many venues succeed or go under, yet the folks that run some of these establishments are good folks and are good to the bands and musicians. Stallings and the Hippodrome folks do not get this. Now with the folks behind the Hippodrome being black, maybe they have issues with white people. I don’t necessary see this because most of the folks complaining about the abusive treatment towards them at the Hippodrome are black. But, let’s face it – many wealthy and successful black business leaders have issues with everybody, especially poor black people. Many local black musicians are poor, as are white, and Latino musicians. To me Stallings turns his nose up to anyone that isn’t a so called ‘player’ in this city. Okay, you can be like that in the real estate game, but not at a venue, especially one helped subsidized by the city which is technically run by its citizens. Stallings is giving Richmond the middle finger.
Mr. Stallings you can jerk around, lambaste and curse at local musicians, even the most nationally recognized, you fucking ingrate, and jerk around Venture Richmond along with the most well known concert organizers in the region, but in the end you’ll lose. Your reputation is below life support by now and the Hippodrome is ruined. I seriously doubt any national chain, such as Blue Note jazz club, which you mentioned you had hoped an organization like that would run your theater, would ever now want to do business with you. You are now a pariah.
I saw that big article in Style about you and the Hippodrome, and I now see the fancy TV commercials about the Hippodrome. It’s all a big fat farce. I just read that if there is a Fall Line Festival next year, the Hippodrome ain’t going to be a part of it. I actually mentioned to a few people that I knew this was going to happen. I think now pretty much everyone of all walks in Richmond now sees how awful the Hippodrome’s owner really is and how that theater is run. I wish I had mentioned my premonition to Stephen Lecky and Venture Richmond. Yes, I get upset with Venture, but their greater good far exceeds Ron Stallings’. So, it’s no surprise any serious concert organizers will want to do anything ever again at the Hippodrome, and unless it’s a show featuring cheesy light jazz, I doubt anything else useful to the multi-culture of this city and its nightlife will ever play there again. You blew it Stallings and by the way, don’t ever curse out, rip off, or treat a musician/promoter shitty in this city who didn’t ask for it again, you small, small, oh, did I mention small? human being.
For the record I have met Ron Stallings twice. The first time he was really cool, and he went over with me in detail how he was going to renovate the Hippodrome. I thought he ‘got it’ after that encounter. The second time I met him, after the Hippodrome had reopened, he was so rude – I wanted to punch him in the face. The renovated Hippodrome is a architectural miracle of a theater/venue, I think we all can agree to that, but those who run the Hippodrome have single handedly destroyed any positive will that it has with the community. So for now Richmond, fuck the Hippodrome.
Sidenote – There are some civic leaders out there who claimed it be a bad idea for the city to give this goon any money at all for the theater. I disagreed, and was for it like I said in the beginning of this piece. Well I was wrong, and I apologize.