I recently had the pleasure of driving an old friend around Richmond. It was the first time he had seen the city in over 20 years.
While his path since graduation graduation from University of Richmond in the early 1990’s included time in New Jersey, Atlanta and Austin (as well as several Marine Corp posts around the world), mine had kept me mostly in and around Richmond. His decades old memories of Richmond contrasted to my 20+ years of day to day experiences were both eye opening and thought provoking. It got me thinking about what the next 20 years would bring.
Below, organized only by what stuck me as important and in no particular order, are the real estate projects/trends/developments that will have powerful impact on the Metro in the next 20 years.
The Redevelopment of Scott’s Addition
The Scott’s Addition neighborhood is arguably the most strategically placed neighborhood in the city. Essentially located where 64/95/Powhite/Broad Street and Boulevard meet, Scott’s is a historic neighborhood (literally, by Department of Historic Resources standards, and the impact of that distinction cannot be understated) filled with functionally obsolete warehouses ripe for conversion. For the most part, the conversion has already begun as several residential projects have already been completed with several more either slated or already in production. The eastern sections, along The Boulevard, have seen more activity initially, but that is also changing.
What makes this so important?
First, Scott’s has the potential, if developed correctly, to be everything that a walkable urban neighborhood should be. A mixed-use, adaptive re-use, pedestrian friendly neighborhood requires density and while Scott’s does not have the vertical density of Manchester or Shockoe, it does have extremely large warehouses and several surface parking lots where vertical structures could be added. This mix of large historic warehouse properties combined with a far more experienced and practiced development community means a better balance of residential, commercial and parking. It would also be of great important to see the size of the residences created to have more variance than what most apartment projects currently offer. Simply put, we need some bigger spaces.
Additionally, Scott’s Addition is the furthest west location where large scale mixed-use/adaptive re-use could be developed. With Richmond’s ingrained western bias and much of the corporate employment located in NW Quadrant, providing an urban experience without the additional commute to Shockoe/Tobacco Row has great appeal.
South Plant and Manchester
Having access to 17 largely undeveloped acres along the James River within the city limits is pretty unique. Having those 17 acres situated along the most picturesque stretch of the James with the most stunning views of the Downtown skyline is even more so. When you add in about 400,000 SF of historic warehouse (and good looking warehouse product, too) on the site, the property becomes extremely compelling. The scale of the potential development (along with the 5 year long upheaval of the financial markets) is such that the local development community has been unable, as of yet, to figure out how to finance the development of the property.
The possibilities for the site are almost endless with talk of high rises, a baseball stadium, large scale grocers and other retail, apartments, town homes and luxury condos all a part of the conversation…and this could be one of the problems. The unlimited nature of the site, along with room for so much new, non-historic, construction to be built means that each potential new user or idea changes the pro-forma. I am not sure what the right answer is, but I sincerely hope that the site is not minimally used. An opportunity to have such a site in such a location is incredibly unique and simply putting up a Kroger and several hundred more apartments, while easier, is not the correct use.
What makes this so important?
17 acres is a huge urban site. If executed correctly, the Reynold’s South Plant site will become the project which unites both sides of the James in our Downtown and gives “Southside” a level of importance and panache that it so sorely lacks in the minds of many.
Central National Bank
The CNB Building is located along Broad Street (between 2nd and 3rd) just west of City Hall, The Convention Center and VCU’s Medical School. It is one of the most striking buildings on the Richmond skyline with a lobby reminiscent of Grand Central Station. Owned by a developer headquartered out of DC (Douglas Development Corp), the property has been vacant for many years with many promises of its redevelopment never coming to fruition.
No single stretch of road reflects the ebb and flow of Downtown Richmond as East Broad does. The efforts to reshape/revitalize/re-energize Broad Street have been many and the results have been less than spectacular. Iconic and signature properties which languish undeveloped and vacant undermine re-development efforts. A cold and dark CNB building (along with the surrounding blighted properties) essentially across the street from the Convention Center property is asinine.
What makes it so important?
In order for Richmond to reach whatever potential it may have, Broad Street must be healthy. Right now, the health of Broad Street is compromised by the 3 block stretch surrounding the CNB. City Hall, the State Capital, VCU, The Convention Center, Miller and Rhodes, The National Theater, The Bio Technology Park, The Merhige Court Building, The Carpenter Center and the Library of Virginia are all effectively adjacent to the blight created by the dormant property. When outsiders (or simply ‘suburbanites’) see Richmond through this lens (which happens during every convention, concert or legislative session) the impact becomes obvious.
I look forward to the day when Broad Street re-connects and until CNB is addressed, Broad Street, and all of Richmond, will suffer.
A Dense Innsbrook and the Success of West Broad Village
Before reading this segment, spend a few minutes watching this speech from a TED Talk from several years back. For any of us who have been caught in traffic along West Broad Street, Midlothian Tpke or Hull Street on the way somewhere at 5:30 in the afternoon (which is pretty much everyone), that speech is powerful, and it brings to the forefront the issues of traffic, pollution, crumbling infrastructure, higher taxes and automobile dependency.
The prevailing development model for the past 40-50 years has been to create isolated pockets of uses and then connect them via interstate. Residential development is isolated from office development is isolated from retail and so on. Get up, drive to work, then drive to lunch, then back, then drive to the grocery store or mall, then home again. Repeat. While this is not to suggest that we have no need for cars, it is to suggest that current development practices effectively give us no choice.
Recently, the ‘New Urbanist‘ movement in Richmond has gained momentum. Innsbrook, the prototypical suburban office park, is currently in the process of a rezoning which will allow for their version of New Urbanism.
What makes this so important?
It will be the first example of a suburban office park (in Richmond) repositioning itself in the direct path of the suburban density trend. West Broad Village, located close by, is the first successful Richmond example of a mixed-use high-density suburban project, albeit more residential and retail (than residential and office). Creating places where living on foot is possible (mostly before and after work), WBV (and hopefully soon Innsbrook as well) allows its residents to come home, change into shorts and flip-flops, and walk to upscale grocery, exercise facilities, both fine and casual dining as well as a host of other smaller entertainment and service options.
Both West Broad Village and Innsbrook represent a departure from the doctrine that development should be largely single purpose. This is a hugely important shift in the mind of both developers, county planners and the buying public.
Obviously, this post could have been far longer.
There are numerous individual projects and properties whose success or failure could dramatically impact Richmond that I neglected to mention. ‘Baseball in the Bottom,’ the Bus Depot site and the ‘What to do with the public housing projects east of 95’ are some of the notable ones whose issues are so complex and controversial that each probably deserve their posts. While these projects will obviously have huge impact, they are largely beyond the control of the private sector and thus extremely hard to predict.
Regardless of some negative commentary above, I very much like the overall trends. For the first time in many (MANY!) years, the long term prognosis is positive and hopefully the next 20 years will continue to bring enhancements to the RVA Metro experience.