Melanie Smith of Richmond wanted to bring the community together. She dreamed of hosting wedding receptions and summer concerts, so she purchased three lots on the corner of South 7th Street and Calhoun Street to convert into a food truck park.
But the properties’ steep price tag left Smith without enough money to realize her vision.
In an attempt to find funds, Smith said she contacted City Commissioner Barry Beard to ask about city grants.
Smith said Beard told her there were no grants available to help her. When Beard knew she couldn’t afford to build on the lots, he offered to help her sell the property to “a friend of his,” Smith told The Herald on Monday.
She said she later found out that she was selling the property to a company in which Beard owned or was part owner.
“Barry told me Ty Coburn was going to be buying the property, not some corporation Barry owns,” Smith said.
Beard doesn’t deny that he and his partners purchased the land through a holding company.
“We used business entities to purchase the property for tax and liability reasons,” Beard wrote in a June 7 email to the Herald.
Beard does dispute telling Smith there were no grants available for her.
Former City Commissioner Josh Lockhart filed a complaint with the city of Richmond’s ethics board alleging Beard misrepresented himself during the land deal.
The ethics board agreed last week to review the allegations.
Among the allegations is Smith’s statement that even before Beard had closed on the property, he filed for the grant he told Smith didn’t exist.
Beard told The Herald he hasn’t applied for the grant.
According to Lockhart’s complaint, Smith is referring to the Downtown Improvement Grant.
The grant provides downtown business owners with up to $25,000 in matching funds for eligible improvements.
“A business owner has to put up at least $10,000 to qualify for a Downtown Improvement Grant,” said Cameron Goodman, executive director of the Development Corporation of Richmond.
Because the grant requires 50% in matching funds, Goodman doesn’t consider it a “tool to help new businesses get started.”
“It’s really for existing businesses that need a facelift,” he said.
Goodman also pointed out that Beard has yet to apply for the grant.
“We’ve only had three applications so far, and none of them involved Commissioner Beard,” Goodman said.
The only approved applications were from Mercy Goods, for renovation assistance, and from owners of property at Seventh and Jackson streets, for expansion assistance.
The third application was for funds to install an iron fence and was denied because it was below the $10,000 minimum expenditure limit.
The name of the applicant can’t be disclosed because the application was denied, according to Goodman.
Beard said he looks forward to the ethics board reviewing the allegations and clearing his good name.