Work to begin in Jackson Ward on Fay Towers replacement

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 7/1/2018, 10:30 a.m.

Heavy machinery will soon start moving into a block of Jackson Ward where 154 apartments are to rise over the next year or so, according to Orlando C. Artze, interim director of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

Mr. Artze said he expects site work to begin within two weeks on the development, which represents the second phase of a five-year-old effort to replace Fay Towers.

The towers, a 200-unit, high-rise apartment building for the elderly and disabled at 1202 N. 1st St., has been a landmark in the Gilpin Court public housing community.

The first phase was completed last year when 77 apartments were renovated and reopened in a former school in Highland Park.

In the Jackson Ward development, at least 72 of the new apartment units are to be reserved for residents of Fay Towers, with the remainder to be offered to the public.

The development is planned for vacant land and a historic, but vacant Catholic convent in the block bounded by 1st, 2nd, Duval and Jackson streets.

The new Jackson Ward apartments will cap a nearly 30-year effort at redevelopment of the block, which the city bought and turned over to RRHA around 1991.

The block, which still has existing historic structures, was once a bustling part of Jackson Ward and was the location of the former St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, built in the 1880s to serve African-American parishioners, and its associated Van de Vyver School. A small park in the block recalls the history of St. Joseph’s. The park is to remain. The convent is the last surviving building of the Catholic complex.

RRHA has partnered with Community Preservation and Development Corp., a Washington nonprofit housing developer, to undertake this project.

CPDC officials have not responded to Free Press requests for information.

The project has been approved by the Richmond City Council and Planning Commission, and building permits have been secured, Mr. Artze said. Financing for the project was completed June 13, he said.

Mr. Artze said the project will be inclusive. He noted that the $1.5 million contract for site work has been awarded to a minority contractor, but did not disclose the name of the company.

He said additional minority contractors also are to be involved in the development. He said 211 minority contractors, including Section 3 firms that hire public housing residents or are located in public housing communities, have been notified and are being encouraged to bid for future work.

Meanwhile, Mr. Artze said that CPDC is awaiting approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to move ahead on creating at least 50 new apartments in the old Baker School in Gilpin Court, the third phase of replacing units in Fay Towers. He said that approval is expected in September.

That development would complement work now underway to transform the historic St. Luke Building in Gilpin Court into apartments and commercial space. The building is the former headquarters of the nonprofit beneficial society headed by the late Maggie L. Walker when she launched a bank, newspaper and department store in Richmond.

The work on the new complex, projected to cost at least $23 million, is good news for RRHA, which is still struggling to fix broken heating units in its apartments.

As of June 15, Mr. Artze reported that full repairs in 21 units have yet to be completed, while 390 units are done. The 21 units are the toughest to fix, he said, requiring more expensive work. RRHA, for example, has to repair a boiler to restore the heat in at least three of those apartments, he said.

A report on heating repairs was issued last week as RRHA joined Dominion Energy to distribute at least 80 new window air conditioners to elderly residents of Gilpin Court. Dominion Energy also is offering residents help to pay electric bills.

The effort is part of Dominion Energy’s delivery of 400 air conditioners in Richmond through its EnergyShare Program.