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New construction adding neighbors to downtown rowhouse

Jonathan Spiers May 18, 2017 0

grace st duplex

Construction started several weeks ago on a three-story duplex at 305 W. Grace St. (Jonathan Spiers)

A rare case of new residential construction in Monroe Ward is taking shape along West Grace Street, immediately next door to a century-old predecessor.

Construction started several weeks ago on a three-story, 4,000-square-foot duplex at 305 W. Grace St. – a narrow, 0.08-acre lot between an isolated 1900-era rowhouse and the Davis Market parking lot at Grace and North Madison Street.

The structure will house two residential units that will be offered for lease, said Mike Alexander, who is developing the building with business partner Rick LaReau.

Alexander, an agent with local real estate firm Neville C. Johnson & Associates, said he and LaReau have developed a few comparable homes in Union Hill. LaReau is CEO of local commercial printer Worth Higgins.

The pair purchased the vacant Grace Street property in March for $126,000, according to city property records. The purchase was made through Michaux LLC, which acquired a similar-size parcel between two houses in Union Hill in 2014.

Alexander said they were alerted to the Grace Street site by their contractor on the project, Midlothian-based McGee Consultation & Construction. He said they liked the site for its downtown location and proximity to VCU.

“There’s not a whole lot left,” Alexander said of developable land in the area. “This is designed for student-type housing, or an owner-occupant who wants a first-floor master bedroom and wants to rent the upper floor.”

Both units will comprise 2,000 square feet, each incorporating about half of the second floor. Alexander said the lower unit will have two bedrooms, a kitchen and 2½ bathrooms, while the upper unit will total three bedrooms, an office and 2½ baths.

grace st duplex

The new building is adjacent to a century-old rowhouse. (Jonathan Spiers)

Window cutouts facing Madison Street are visible on the side of the building, and Alexander said the units will have access from the front and open out to the back. The upper-level unit will have a balcony, he said.

Alexander said he and LaReau designed the units themselves. He said the building’s exterior will be consistent with neighboring architecture.

“We’re going to try and keep with the older, traditional-type look,” he said.

The building is adjacent to a rowhouse at 307 W. Grace St. that last changed hands in 1975 for $37,000, according to city records. A city assessment most recently valued that property at $285,000.

Alexander did not disclose the cost of the project, which he said is being financed by Bank of Lancaster, now Virginia Commonwealth Bank.

Alexander said rents for the units have yet to be determined. He said they are aiming for the units to hit the market this summer and be occupied by early August.

“We’re going to check the market, what (comparable properties) in the area are, when we get closer to finishing,” Alexander said.

Alexander said the city required the building to be closer to Grace Street than its century-old neighbor, requiring some adjustments to the front-stair entry design.

“Working with these 22-foot lots is challenging, but fun,” Alexander said. “It’s amazing what you can get on these things.”

The infill project provides a rare glimpse of new construction in an otherwise built-out part of downtown. Around the block, work is wrapping up on a conversion of the former DoubleTree by Hilton at 301 W. Franklin St. into a Graduate Hotel location.

A block west from the Grace Street project, the 57-unit Grace and Monroe Apartments building changed ownership in 2015 in a $6.4 million deal. Farther west across Belvidere Street, a century-old apartment building was demolished last week to make way for parking for the nearly complete Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU.

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