There’s hope for Hull Street yet

hullstreetinsideWhat was once a main street of Chesterfield County, Hull Street is now the most run-down commercial strip in Richmond.

Paper flyers and food wrappers get caught in the wind and ride aimlessly until they find themselves back on the ground – a sort of urban tumbleweed. Centuries-old buildings have busted out windows and boarded-up doors.

More than half of the buildings on Hull Street between the James River and Midlothian Turnpike are either vacant, for rent, under construction, or owned by non-operating businesses.

Continuing with our “Better Know a District” series, we turned our attention to a stretch of Richmond’s Hull Street in the historic Manchester district. Starting on 2nd Street, we worked our way all the way up past Jefferson Davis Highway, eventually ending our count at Clopton Street / Midlothian Turnpike.

There are 118 buildings in all. Fifty-seven hold operating businesses. Six are empty, For Rent signs were up in 23 buildings, and eight were in some stage of construction / renovation. The remaining 24 buildings were clearly owned, but had locked doors and the lights out – all non-operating business.

Add it all up, and you come up with 61 buildings that aren’t being used. That means 48% of the buildings on Hull have operating businesses.

In our look at Broad Street, we determined that 33% of the buildings on that stretch did not have actively operating businesses. Compare that to our count for Hull, where 52% of the buildings did not have operating businesses, which suggests that perhaps Hull Street is the most run-down commercial strip in Richmond.

Most of the active buildings contain hair braiding stores, law firms or art galleries.

But is this a run-down business district standing on its last legs? Or is this history-rich area sitting in the perfect spot for a renaissance?

Business owners seem to side with the latter. I spoke with several shopkeepers, and although they tensed up when I mentioned “Reporter, Writer, Business Magazine,” they seemed adamant that things were looking up, and help was on the way.

Many of them said that business hasn’t changed much in the past year, good or bad. They said that traffic has been steady and that the area will look a lot better once the construction stops.

The construction is an eyesore (and an earsore, for that matter). Focused mainly between 10th and 12th Streets, several buildings are being completely gutted and redone. It’s a little messy right now, but it’s a welcome sign of progress.

The City of Richmond also recently began construction on the Hull Street courthouse, which will bring many workers who need places to eat and grab coffee. Wrote the Times-Dispatch:

“The project is scheduled for completion by Jan. 5, 2010. It will increase the courthouse from 27,250 to 58,625 square feet and provide a third courtroom, 23 cells for prisoners and 163 off-site parking spaces.”

Nearby, a former tobacco factory is getting turned into condos. There are several smaller projects on Hull Street, including just up the street from the court.

More workers and residents would increase demand for new stores and shops.

One shop owner in particular noted that, thanks to new initiatives like the city’s Hope VI program, more traffic is starting to flow through the streets, and it will only increase in the future.

In 1999, the city of Richmond teamed up with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to create the Hope VI program, an initiative designed to increase residency in the Manchester area.

The program demolished the Blackwell public housing units, replacing it with rental and single-family housing. By the program’s completion, the goal is to build 540 replacement housing units.

Phase I and II of the initiative are currently in full swing. The first phase includes the construction of 37 houses in the vicinity of 16th and 18th Streets from Boston to Dinwiddie Avenue and 18th to 20th Streets between Dinwiddie and Edwards. Prices for the homes range in cost from $150,000 to $190,000.

Phase II, which includes the construction of houses in the 1200 block of Stockton and Decatur, began recently. The rest of the homes, which will make up Phases III and IV, will be built between 9th and 12th Streets and Everett Street. Construction on them will begin soon. Prices will be similar to those from Phase I.

The Hope VI program is designed to bring residents back to the area, in turn stimulating business and growth.

Hull Street used to serve as the main hub for Manchester, the original county seat of Chesterfield County. In 1910, Manchester agreed to politically consolidate with the city of Richmond.

Manchester was an active port city in the 18th century, particularly for slave ships. Many of the buildings in the area were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Shoppers frequented the area until the mid 1900s, when development at other spots in the city started to draw people away.

By the 1980s, Hull Street was a mere shell of its former self, disintegrating into a dilapidated mess.

Programs like Hope VI have started the reconstruction process, but it will take time. The next step should be to convert some of those 61 non-operating businesses into things the area needs, like restaurants and variety stores for the hundreds of new residents that will soon be calling Manchester home.

Alec Depcrynski covers commercial real estate retail for BizSense. Please email story ideas to [email protected]

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