Plans could transform Grace St. block into retail-residential mix

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 12/9/2016, 1:09 a.m.
Nearly a block of city-owned parking space near the Carpenter Theatre at Dominion Arts Center in Downtown could be transformed ...

Nearly a block of city-owned parking space near the Carpenter Theatre at Dominion Arts Center in Downtown could be transformed into a mix of residences, offices and retail shops, accompanied by an 800-car parking deck.

A private development group is proposing to invest at least $86 million to make that happen if it can acquire the property that includes the 6th and Franklin parking deck for $3.95 million.

Mayor Dwight C. Jones has sent the proposal from the group called City Center Development LLC to the Richmond Planning Commission, with hopes that it will pass muster with the commission on Monday, Dec. 5, and then win Richmond City Council approval at its Monday, Dec. 12, meeting.

Soon to leave office, the mayor views the proposal as an opportunity to add to the hotels, apartments, restaurants and new businesses that have begun to fill vacant and underused space in Downtown.

Prominent Richmond developer Robert P. Englander Jr. leads the group of would-be buyers. He is the president of CathFord Consulting LLC, which has created offices and apartments in Shockoe Slip and been involved in hundreds of other real estate projects in the past 23 years.

The property Mr. Englander and his group want to purchase is bounded by the 600 block of Grace, the 100 blocks of 6th and 7th streets and a small portion of the 600 block of Franklin Street. The most prominent feature is the Art Deco parking deck at 6th and Franklin streets that dates to 1927.

If the purchase is consummated, City Center Development has committed to replace within two years the 89-year-old deck with a new 800-vehicle deck that would include 600 spaces for public parking and to complete the full development within five years, according to documents sent to the Planning Commission.

That would include “at least 28,000 square feet of ground-level retail space and a minimum of 372,000 square feet of residential and/or office space” that would assess for at least $86 million for tax purposes, the documents state.

The project would generate at least $1.03 million a year in real estate tax using the current rate of $1.20 per $100 of assessed value after it is completed, the documents note. The city also would gain additional revenue from other taxes, such as sales tax and the business, professional and occupational license tax.

Language in the agreement would enable the city to collect $10,000 in damages for each $100,000 the finished development falls short of meeting the $86 million goal.

However, the proposed contract between the city and the development group does not include any language requiring the developers to include black-owned or other minority businesses in the development.

The city acquired the property at least 13 years ago as part of its plan to revitalize Downtown through the now defunct Broad Street Community Development Authority. Among other things, a vacant office building was cleared from the Grace Street portion of the site and replaced with surface parking.