Photo by Jay Paul
Taylor Williams (left) and Andrew Basham of Spy Rock Real Estate Group
The future of The Diamond and its surrounding acreage remains hazy, but across the Boulevard, a neighborhood is rapidly rising.
In late May, the near-death of Mayor Dwight C. Jones’ proposal for a Shockoe Bottom baseball park also left a cloud of uncertainty hovering over The Diamond and the 60-plus acres around it. When it was introduced in November 2013, the Jones initiative created some of the most contentious development questions in recent Richmond history — both downtown and on North Boulevard.
The city’s official name for the portion in and around the baseball park has been trundled out as the North Boulevard Enhancement District.
“It’s the largest city-owned developable site,” says Peter Chapman, the city’s deputy chief administrative officer for planning and development. “I have a particular fondness for this redevelopment project because it represents an opportunity to fundamentally change the landscape of a particular section of the city …. In the life of an older, established city, short of an otherwise unfortunate natural calamity or manmade disaster, this opportunity just doesn’t happen often.”
Whatever goes there — a new sports stadium, a mix of retail and residential, or all three — will happen only after the city conducts a process of community conversations and incremental, phased planning, Chapman emphasizes.
In the meantime, almost a thousand residential units are set to open in Scott’s Addition and the North Boulevard area during the next 18 months.
This includes the massive refit of the former Interbake Foods factory, which until its 2006 closing displayed the landmark neon letters of the Famous Foods of Virginia logo. The plant once made Girl Scout cookies. The 1927 building and subsequent additions are undergoing transformation into 178 apartments by the Midlothian-based Rebkee Co.
A major engine of residential growth expected north of Broad in Scott’s Addition dominates the neighborhood’s skyline like a big inside joke.
In 1956, James William Breed (1911-1973) of Baskervill & Son designed the looming building at 3600 W. Broad St., then-headquarters for the Seaboard Air Line Railway Co., to resemble a giant caboose car.
Metalwork artist Nicholai Jerome’s Spartan Studios offers a view of the 3600 building from the north end of Roseneath Road. Toward dusk, he sees signs of life in the hulking blue-gray building. “The north wing is still kind of dark at night, but there’s plenty of lights that come on in the south wing.” The building has 191 units and more than a dozen business tenants, all driving the rise to prominence of the Addition.
From August 2005, when Scott’s Addition was certified a historic district, until March this year, according to city figures, investment by upfitters large and small totaled $45 million for the conversion of industrial properties to residential uses and $23 million to remake industrial spaces for commercial purposes. The state and city historic tax credit systems are key to the building activity.
The live-work-play promise of urban neighborhoods that sounds good in real-estate ads but is harder to deliver actually rings true for Brenda Williams, a transplant to Richmond from New York City’s Brooklyn, N.Y., borough.
She works less than a mile away as the general manager at the city’s first new movie theater in 40 years, the 17-screen Movieland, which marked a favorable turning point along North Boulevard when it opened in 2009. Williams also played a role in the opening of the adjacent four-screen Criterion cinemas under the auspices of Movieland’s Bow Tie partners. “The Criterion is my baby,” she says.
When she arrived two and a half years ago, Williams moved to Shockoe, but soon wanted a location closer to work. Now she’s in the 3600 building. “I have a great view of the ballpark’s fireworks,” she says.
Also up high, from the roof of the former Coca-Cola plant on Roseneath Road, Spy Rock Real Estate Group principal partner Andrew Basham points out that Scott’s Addition is Richmond’s “Midtown,” because of its proximity to North Side, the Museum District and the Fan. It is for many an entry point to the city.
The industrial building, rechristened The Preserve, is being developed by Basham and Spy Rock partner Taylor Williams into 190 apartments and lofts, a recreation center and pool. The ugliest, non-historical 1970s addition is now a heap of rubble. The overhaul even turned up a large safe: “We found Coke’s secret formula,” Basham deadpans. “Unfortunately, it was for New Coke.”
The roof mount where the landmark Coca-Cola bottle toasted the city is vacant; Coke took it away after it closed the plant in 2003. Facing south on Roseneath toward Broad, though, is a massive white slab attached to the building where a semi-permanent banner or high-tech tapestry could be suspended — historic tax credit use doesn’t allow on-wall paintings. “We’d like it to be used as a demarcation that you’ve come into another neighborhood, Basham says, adding, “A ‘Welcome to Scott’s Addition,’ but without saying those exact words.” Basham would prefer to see what a Richmond artist can create.
About a year ago, restaurants began connecting the dots between Broad Street and North Side, staking their claim in the area, and other resident-friendly amenities are on the way. Fat Dragon, specializing in traditional Chinese cuisine with a farm-to-table bent, started up on Boulevard in late 2012. Two blocks south, one of the section’s least appealing commercial outlets — a porn store in a former Texaco station — was replaced by the En Su Boca taqueria last year. Then, this May, Whole Foods announced plans to open a store on Broad, five blocks east of Boulevard.
Brooks Stone, an eight-year homeowner in the Addition, notes that the district’s boundaries may soon embrace the previously unclaimed area up to Hermitage Road and Broad. The district’s business organization is also expected to change its name to reflect the new boundaries.
Stone, a past president of the association, feels that Scott’s Addition/North Boulevard will have to address the kinds of issues created by more people living there than ever before: reassessing traffic and street lights, and dealing with parking issues and the zoning process. “Changing the zoning [to residential] is much more complicated,” he says. And it hasn’t stopped businesses from moving or opening there.
These include Lamplighter Roasting Co.’s café and loft office. The Summit Avenue location began life as a satellite of the original Addison Street Lamplighter. Called the Kickstand, it was housed within the Richmond Cycling Corps (a nonprofit that reaches out to youth in public housing through cycling), but soon needed to expand. In cooperation with the building owner, developer Scott Coleman, the café opened a full-fledged location next door. Located across from one of the first renovated apartment buildings in the area, it was at first a lonely outpost. But, says owner/roast master Jennifer Rawlings, community follows coffee shops.
The neighboring Isley Brewing Co. opened in October 2013, offering daily tastings, and nearby Ardent Craft Ales opened last month. Also on its way to the intersection of Norfolk and Summit streets is a big, comfortable Urban Farmhouse café and market. These newcomers join mainstays like the Dairy Bar and the venerable Moore Street Café. So far, though, there aren’t any corner markets for picking up a six-pack or coffee creamer besides the 7-Eleven or the CVS on Broad. The Richmond Food Co-op, a member-owned grocery store, is raising funds to open in Scott’s Addition.
A cultural anchor in the neighborhood is the 22-year-old Richmond Triangle Players organization, which started in a Broad Street nightclub venue and moved to Altamont Street in 2009. The group performs off-Broadway work, cabarets and Richmond premieres. “We were ahead of the curve and lucky to get here when we did,” says Philip Crosby, managing director of RTP. “Then, we needed to give good directions to people about how to find us. The whole nature of the neighborhood has changed and spurred up.”
More people means greater needs to be met — aesthetic as well as commercial.
While there are some trees around, one of the few spaces where you can see green and flowering plants is on the rooftop of the exotic former Adam’s Camera building, which in 1927 housed an Oriental rug company. On the second floor are the offices for Reestablish Richmond, which assists refugees attempting to settle in the area.
“We have to have a discussion about public green spaces, too,” says Charles Samuels, the district’s City Council representative. “While these are great former industrial places, they are huge, and there’s not much space around them. We have to find a way to encourage folks toward bringing this into the neighborhood mix.”
City & Guilds general contracting and development firm founder David Gammino observes that purchase prices have gone up considerably since his company first moved in and began rehabilitating properties in Scott’s Addition in 2008. “During the recession, historic tax-credit-based multifamily projects were the ones that remained on a strong path,” he says, adding that a healthy neighborhood needs a mixture of rental and ownership properties. “What will make a major difference, and I’d like to see it, is if you have more end users who outright owned their properties for their diverse and individual entrepreneurial needs. Not every warehouse can be turned into apartments and lofts.”