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Richmond, Va.: A Smart Place to Retire

Opportunities in the arts abound in this vibrant eastern city for retirees.

Population: 228,783

Cost of living: 95

Median home price: $258,000

College perk: Retirees can join Virginia Commonwealth University’s Commonwealth Society for short courses, lecture series and travel opportunities.

Richmond is historic and southern, but it’s anything but sleepy. Around town, you’ll find a mix of magnolias and colorful murals, preppies in pastels and bohos with turquoise hair and tattoos. “One day, Richmond woke up and it was hip!” says Cathy Saunders, a local real estate agent.

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The centers of the city’s intellectual and creative life are Virginia Commonwealth University, a state university; the University of Richmond, a private school; and Virginia Union University, a private, historically black university. Relocating retirees are often alumni or discovered the city when their children attended college there.

Students from VCU’s School of the Arts present their work at the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts and other venues. The Institute for Contemporary Art presents art, lectures and performances with local, national and international artists. Adults of all ages can join the Commonwealth Society for short courses, lecture series and travel opportunities. Membership costs $100 a year.

On the city’s west end, the University of Richmond’s Modlin Center for the Arts attracts retirees with programming that includes music, dance, theater, visual arts, live broadcasts, lectures and more. Because Richmond is also the state capital, cultural offerings are plentiful. Venues include the Altria Theater, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Virginia Science Museum, the Black History Museum, the Elegba Folklore Society (which celebrates African and African-American culture) and the Virginia Holocaust Museum.

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The city straddles the James River, which offers some respite on hot summer days. At Belle Isle, accessible via a pedestrian bridge, you can walk on shady paths and watch great blue herons glide down to rocks midstream.

Bicyclists, runners and walkers enjoy the Virginia Capital Trail, which runs 52 miles between downtown Richmond and the Jamestown Settlement near Williamsburg. Retirees can visit or volunteer at Maymont, a gilded-era home and 100-acre property with gardens and a nature center.

Restaurants run the gamut of price, style and ethnicity, but you can still get biscuits with your breakfast or hush puppies with your charcuterie plate. If you’d rather tipple than hike, the Richmond Beer Trail includes 30 craft breweries.

Richmond’s neighborhoods offer a variety of housing styles. On the east side, luxury condos at Rocketts Landing, which overlooks the James River, attract rightsizing 55-to-70-year-olds, says Saunders, at prices ranging from $200,000 to $1.4 million. Colorful rowhouses and townhouses with front porches on tree-lined streets abound on Church Hill and in the Museum and Fan districts, at prices ranging from $450,000 to $1.2 million. Fifteen minutes from downtown, Libbie Mill-Midtown, a master-planned community, offers townhomes, condos and apartments in a walkable environment with shops, restaurants and a state-of-the-art library, at prices ranging from $350,000 to $500,000.

Richmond is a big city with big-city problems, and sometimes cultures clash. Still, “it’s a big small town,” says Madonna Byrkeland, 65, a former opera singer who moved from Manhattan to Richmond for work. She says residents watch out for each other and will go the extra mile to help. “They will always be gracious,” she says.

The GRTC Pulse bus rapid transit line connects the city from east to west. Seven carriers fly out of Richmond International Airport. There are plenty of health care facilities, including Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital, which has a four-star rating from Medicare, and Bon Secours Memorial Regional Medical Center, a five-star hospital in nearby Mechanicsville.

Virginia is tax-friendly for retirees. It doesn’t tax Social Security benefits, and residents 65 and older can deduct up to $12,000 per person of income from IRAs, pensions and other retirement accounts, subject to income eligibility limits.

For population figures, we used the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data. Cost-of-living data comes from the Council for Community and Economic Research (100 represents the national median). Median home prices were provided by Redfin, Zillow and local associations of Realtors.

 

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