Gas station fuels development quandary

For more than a decade, developers and planners have worked to upgrade a rough patch of real estate at the edge of the Fan.

Now a planning group is requesting city funds to help buy out one of the last remaining holdouts, a gas station owner in no hurry to sell.

The West Cary Street Planning Committee has requested city funding to help advance the redevelopment of the BP station at Meadow and Cary streets. ??The committee, composed mostly of business owners and residents, is requesting between $500,000 and $750,000 to assist in acquiring and developing the property. The committee is led by its longtime chairman, developer Ed Eck.

Without city money, the purchase price for the land is too high, developers say, to support new investment.

“This gentleman has a viable business. [A buyer] is not only paying for the land but they’ve got to give him something for giving up his business,” said Mark Richardson, a member of the committee and CFO of Eck Enterprises. ??Eck Enterprises has developed much of the property along the corridor and in adjacent areas, primarily into apartments that serve VCU students.??The committee has been in talks with the owner for years, but the price has always been a stumbling block. Richardson wouldn’t say how much the owner is asking for.

Mike Lafayette, attorney for the station’s owner (1920 W. Cary. St. LLC), confirmed they have had conversations with the committee about the site and that his client is not opposed to selling the land for redevelopment. That is, if the price is right.

“My client has worked very hard and spent a lot of money on developing and renovating his business. It would be difficult from a business perspective to buy out both the business and the real estate at a land price that would be doable for this project,” Lafayette said.

Lafayette said there is also another reason the owner has been hesitant to jump into a deal.

“There is some pushback from residents who really like the store. He has had neighbors come in and say ‘Please don’t sell out,’” Lafayette said. “There really isn’t anything else over there.”

Lafayette said there haven’t been any developers other than Eck who have contacted them to express interest in a deal.

“Ed Eck has done a great job with redevelopment in that area, and he wants to see other developers continue the progress he has made,” Lafayette said.

Richardson said that Eck wants to see it developed but that he doesn’t want to be the one to do it.

Eck and Richardson presented the funding proposal to members at an October meeting of the committee. Several council members and other city officials were also present.?? One scenario laid out in the presentation would be for the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority to buy the property and put out a request for proposals to develop it. The city would put up to a quarter million into the deal and cover the cost of sidewalk improvements, abate utility connection fees, abate real estate taxes on improvements for 10 years and support a special use permit.

Another possibility would be for a developer to negotiate directly with the owner without the involvement of RRHA.

Transforming the corner has been high on the priority list for the leaders of the committee, which was created by the city in 1997 to guide the revitalization of the five-block stretch of Cary that extends east from Meadow Street. Over the past decade, scores of residential units have been built. Many have been constructed on the sites of former industrial warehouses, and most of the development has been privately funded, but some sections have been completed in conjunction with the RRHA.

To Eck and others involved, the gas station at 1920 W. Cary St. remains a frustrating holdout. ??“Of the top 10 projects planned by the committee, we’ve done 9 out of 10. Guess which one we haven’t,” Richardson said.

The service station was built in 1985. The current owner acquired the property in 2005 for $950,000 from John Seibert, owner of other stations and the towing company that bears his name. ??The property was recently assessed at $937,000, up $319,000 from the previous year. ?? Richardson said the rising property values in the area are a result of the investment that Eck Enterprise and other developers, such as East West Partners, Clachan Properties and the Wilton Companies, have put into the area.

Real estate assessments for the area have increased from $11.69 million in 2002 to $50.51 million in 2010, which has resulted in an additional $2,000,000 in real estate taxes over the same period, according to Richardson.

Richardson said they are not interested in pursuing the project themselves, because they have been so involved with the process that it would create a conflict of interest. The company has had renderings produced that show a five-story residential building with ground level retail, but Richardson said anything is possible.

Local real estate professionals expressed a mix of opinions regarding the planning committee’s proposal, as well as the viability of a residential use of the site.

Chris Corrada, vice president of East West Partners, oversaw the development of the property directly across the street into the Lofts at Cary Place, consisting of 14 commercial condos on the ground level and 14 residential condos above.?? Corrada agrees that the BP station is the last step to completing the revitalization of the entire area.

“The BP station is what is holding everything back. We have done everything we can ourselves,” Corrada said. “The city needs to step up and make something happen with that BP.”

The Lofts at Cary Place cost about $4 million to develop. It was finished in 2005. Corrada said they have one residential unit left to sell and six commercial spaces to sell.

Corrada said his company would not pursue a project across the street because they only do for-sale product and the condo market is saturated. He said apartments make the most sense for the site.

Rick Jarvis
, principal of One South Realty, said that he’d be happy to see the corner put to another use. ??“It is a gateway to that section of the city. So much has already gone in that area to bring new life and vibrancy. If the money were spent there to help the project occur, I think it would pay itself back,” Jarvis said. ??But Jarvis said the project isn’t viable for a developer without some assistance from the city to offset the acquisition cost.

“The costs of the inputs are greater than most development scenarios. Most don’t come with a thriving business there on site that you don’t have to pay to get rid of,” Jarvis said.

Carter Snipes
, founder of Snipes Properties, said development of the corner would spur more growth in the area, but he isn’t so sure about city putting cash into the deal.

“I would prefer to see the city be more lenient in terms of zoning and infrastructure improvements than offering cash incentives,” Snipes said.

Developer Marc Galt of Sensei Development said he questions the use of city funds in this particular instance. ??”I believe we should not be using Richmond City taxpayer dollars to fund private development in light of the other more important places the money could be spent, for example schools and public health and safety,” he said.

Galt and his partners developed a condo project called the Mews at Cary Mill just down the street, as well the Hamlet Condominiums.

If the intent of development is to curb the alleged drug dealing that takes place at that location, Galt said the money would be better spent beefing up police presence.  ??He also questions whether there is a market for another large apartment complex.

“Given the 1,000-plus residential units currently under development in the Shockoe Bottom, Shockoe Slip and VCU area, it seems prudent to realize the absorption of these units prior to any additional residential development in these neighborhoods,” Galt said.

Whether a new deal moves forward is now in the hands of city officials.

Councilman Marty Jewell, who represents the area, said that he is generally favorable to the proposal.

“I have made inquiries in how to best get that request in. It looks like the window to introduce anything is not yet open, so I’ve been feeling around to best approach this thing and see who I can count on so if we put in it in that it sticks,” Jewell said.

A move will likely be made in a matter of weeks, not months, Jewell said. The funds would most likely come in the form of a Community Development Block Grant, he said. ??Jewell does have some concerns in that the station is a destination for people in his district who do not have transportation and rely on the station for meals and other items. There is also a coin laundry attached to the station.

“If there is a reservation, it has to do with gentrification,” Jewell said. “But there is a way to seek the best of both worlds, so we’ll just work hard at it.”

For more than a decade, developers and planners have worked to upgrade a rough patch of real estate at the edge of the Fan.

Now a planning group is requesting city funds to help buy out one of the last remaining holdouts, a gas station owner in no hurry to sell.

The West Cary Street Planning Committee has requested city funding to help advance the redevelopment of the BP station at Meadow and Cary streets. ??The committee, composed mostly of business owners and residents, is requesting between $500,000 and $750,000 to assist in acquiring and developing the property. The committee is led by its longtime chairman, developer Ed Eck.

Without city money, the purchase price for the land is too high, developers say, to support new investment.

“This gentleman has a viable business. [A buyer] is not only paying for the land but they’ve got to give him something for giving up his business,” said Mark Richardson, a member of the committee and CFO of Eck Enterprises. ??Eck Enterprises has developed much of the property along the corridor and in adjacent areas, primarily into apartments that serve VCU students.??The committee has been in talks with the owner for years, but the price has always been a stumbling block. Richardson wouldn’t say how much the owner is asking for.

Mike Lafayette, attorney for the station’s owner (1920 W. Cary. St. LLC), confirmed they have had conversations with the committee about the site and that his client is not opposed to selling the land for redevelopment. That is, if the price is right.

“My client has worked very hard and spent a lot of money on developing and renovating his business. It would be difficult from a business perspective to buy out both the business and the real estate at a land price that would be doable for this project,” Lafayette said.

Lafayette said there is also another reason the owner has been hesitant to jump into a deal.

“There is some pushback from residents who really like the store. He has had neighbors come in and say ‘Please don’t sell out,’” Lafayette said. “There really isn’t anything else over there.”

Lafayette said there haven’t been any developers other than Eck who have contacted them to express interest in a deal.

“Ed Eck has done a great job with redevelopment in that area, and he wants to see other developers continue the progress he has made,” Lafayette said.

Richardson said that Eck wants to see it developed but that he doesn’t want to be the one to do it.

Eck and Richardson presented the funding proposal to members at an October meeting of the committee. Several council members and other city officials were also present.?? One scenario laid out in the presentation would be for the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority to buy the property and put out a request for proposals to develop it. The city would put up to a quarter million into the deal and cover the cost of sidewalk improvements, abate utility connection fees, abate real estate taxes on improvements for 10 years and support a special use permit.

Another possibility would be for a developer to negotiate directly with the owner without the involvement of RRHA.

Transforming the corner has been high on the priority list for the leaders of the committee, which was created by the city in 1997 to guide the revitalization of the five-block stretch of Cary that extends east from Meadow Street. Over the past decade, scores of residential units have been built. Many have been constructed on the sites of former industrial warehouses, and most of the development has been privately funded, but some sections have been completed in conjunction with the RRHA.

To Eck and others involved, the gas station at 1920 W. Cary St. remains a frustrating holdout. ??“Of the top 10 projects planned by the committee, we’ve done 9 out of 10. Guess which one we haven’t,” Richardson said.

The service station was built in 1985. The current owner acquired the property in 2005 for $950,000 from John Seibert, owner of other stations and the towing company that bears his name. ??The property was recently assessed at $937,000, up $319,000 from the previous year. ?? Richardson said the rising property values in the area are a result of the investment that Eck Enterprise and other developers, such as East West Partners, Clachan Properties and the Wilton Companies, have put into the area.

Real estate assessments for the area have increased from $11.69 million in 2002 to $50.51 million in 2010, which has resulted in an additional $2,000,000 in real estate taxes over the same period, according to Richardson.

Richardson said they are not interested in pursuing the project themselves, because they have been so involved with the process that it would create a conflict of interest. The company has had renderings produced that show a five-story residential building with ground level retail, but Richardson said anything is possible.

Local real estate professionals expressed a mix of opinions regarding the planning committee’s proposal, as well as the viability of a residential use of the site.

Chris Corrada, vice president of East West Partners, oversaw the development of the property directly across the street into the Lofts at Cary Place, consisting of 14 commercial condos on the ground level and 14 residential condos above.?? Corrada agrees that the BP station is the last step to completing the revitalization of the entire area.

“The BP station is what is holding everything back. We have done everything we can ourselves,” Corrada said. “The city needs to step up and make something happen with that BP.”

The Lofts at Cary Place cost about $4 million to develop. It was finished in 2005. Corrada said they have one residential unit left to sell and six commercial spaces to sell.

Corrada said his company would not pursue a project across the street because they only do for-sale product and the condo market is saturated. He said apartments make the most sense for the site.

Rick Jarvis
, principal of One South Realty, said that he’d be happy to see the corner put to another use. ??“It is a gateway to that section of the city. So much has already gone in that area to bring new life and vibrancy. If the money were spent there to help the project occur, I think it would pay itself back,” Jarvis said. ??But Jarvis said the project isn’t viable for a developer without some assistance from the city to offset the acquisition cost.

“The costs of the inputs are greater than most development scenarios. Most don’t come with a thriving business there on site that you don’t have to pay to get rid of,” Jarvis said.

Carter Snipes
, founder of Snipes Properties, said development of the corner would spur more growth in the area, but he isn’t so sure about city putting cash into the deal.

“I would prefer to see the city be more lenient in terms of zoning and infrastructure improvements than offering cash incentives,” Snipes said.

Developer Marc Galt of Sensei Development said he questions the use of city funds in this particular instance. ??”I believe we should not be using Richmond City taxpayer dollars to fund private development in light of the other more important places the money could be spent, for example schools and public health and safety,” he said.

Galt and his partners developed a condo project called the Mews at Cary Mill just down the street, as well the Hamlet Condominiums.

If the intent of development is to curb the alleged drug dealing that takes place at that location, Galt said the money would be better spent beefing up police presence.  ??He also questions whether there is a market for another large apartment complex.

“Given the 1,000-plus residential units currently under development in the Shockoe Bottom, Shockoe Slip and VCU area, it seems prudent to realize the absorption of these units prior to any additional residential development in these neighborhoods,” Galt said.

Whether a new deal moves forward is now in the hands of city officials.

Councilman Marty Jewell, who represents the area, said that he is generally favorable to the proposal.

“I have made inquiries in how to best get that request in. It looks like the window to introduce anything is not yet open, so I’ve been feeling around to best approach this thing and see who I can count on so if we put in it in that it sticks,” Jewell said.

A move will likely be made in a matter of weeks, not months, Jewell said. The funds would most likely come in the form of a Community Development Block Grant, he said. ??Jewell does have some concerns in that the station is a destination for people in his district who do not have transportation and rely on the station for meals and other items. There is also a coin laundry attached to the station.

“If there is a reservation, it has to do with gentrification,” Jewell said. “But there is a way to seek the best of both worlds, so we’ll just work hard at it.”

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Phil Gardner
Phil Gardner
11 years ago

I don’t want my tax dollars buying real estate at inflated prices. If the price doesn’t make sense for a professional real estate investor, it’s probably just a bad deal ! Not to mention the city government has no business investing tax dollars to advance the position of private investors.

m elliott
m elliott
11 years ago

I agree Phil, Great Points All!!

By the way, what do you want to bet that the poor business/property owner get his property right trampled on via a BS move to “condemn” his property at the behest of the “investors” if the taxpayer funds don’t arrive?

Brett
Brett
11 years ago

What about the store on the opposite corner? I didn’t see it mentioned. That place is a hole too. At least the BP guy made some upgrades. The reason why the neighborhood doesn’t want the BP to disappear is because they all love hanging out up there. Neighborhoods need places like that, it would just be nicer if they didn’t sell single beers and so much fried food. There needs to be a proper place to shop where folks have access to healthy foods and a safe environment. And I agree with Phil, dragging the city into it is a… Read more »

Basil
Basil
11 years ago

Clearly you are unaware of Richmond’s history Phil. Pretty much all the major corridors of Richmond exist because the City invested tax dollars that spurred private investment. Monument ave being the token example. Indeed very few developments in this country would have been built w/o government investment, think roads, water, sewer, dams, energy, internet. Unless you are a native american living on the rez, you can thank the gov’t this coming thursday for helping to lay the foundation on which private investment has been built since before the U.S. was formed.

Jeff Weisman
Jeff Weisman
11 years ago

Ed Eck thinks he is like VCU and can dictate how the city spends their money. Look how VCU helped to “move” the Daily Planet off of Canal Street and then built a brand new engineering/business school & now residential buildings & parking decks and so on and so forth.

Drew
Drew
11 years ago

I am not very knowledgeable on how Virginia income tax is divided among the counties and cities, but theoretically asking the city to invest in the development of a project of luxury apartments could draw increased city income tax revenue in the future. I would want to see this analysis completed before I would support the project. Also, from an economic perspective, removing a gas station that over-charges for gas in favor of an apartment complex full of future residents seeking to spend their disposable income further multiplies the returns. With further saturation in the community, it is possible retail… Read more »

Scott Sirles
Scott Sirles
11 years ago

Basil,

Infrastructure such as “roads, water, sewer, dams” and, I would add, transportation is an appropriate government investment. The rationale for government investment is that such infrastructure investments would not be made by the private sector; i.e., they are public goods. Real estate development is an appropriate private investment. Your example of Monument Ave. fits this model quite well. Subsidizing a private real estate development does not fit this model.

Without saying so, other posters objecting to this proposal understand the principal of public goods. Perhaps, you should look up this principle on Wikipedia or in standard Economics text books.

Chris Corrada
Chris Corrada
11 years ago

What was left out of this article is the fact that the when the 1997 redevelopment plan was approved the city agreed to spend $15,000,000 in the area. To date they have spent $500,000 and have collected $2,000,000 in additional tax revenues. The committee is asking the city to make an investment, just like the previous investment, and in return recieve a huge increase in tax base.

CC

Jeff Sadler
Jeff Sadler
11 years ago

I have to say that this gas station is an important feature of the community. It is the only gas station on Cary from the intersection of Thompson and Cary and all the way downtown and beyond. There is the citgo or whatever a few blocks down on Main, but this gas station is very convenient when you are on your way downtown. And Brett, my guess is that the market is dictating the fare at the station. Have you eaten the food there? It is delicious. Not healthy, but delicious. My analysis is that all this talk about this… Read more »

Chris Corrada
Chris Corrada
11 years ago

Answer: Yes, the neighborhood was the catalyst to get the redevelopment plan approved in 1997. The neighborhood was tired of the drug dealing, prostitution, and murder that was taking place there.

Wythe Shockley
Wythe Shockley
11 years ago

Both of the convenience stores owners on the block have been members of the community for a long time. And the city already bought a store across the street where the new buildings are.
I agree with Jeff….having a gas station/convenience store can be an attribute to the area and will save us a lot of money.

Mark Richardson
Mark Richardson
11 years ago

Thank you again for your coverage of this project. Just to expand on the creation and purpose of the West Cary Street Planning Committee, City Council approved the West Cary Street Conservation and Redevelopment Plan in 1997 (covers West Cary from Meadow to Lady & Plum Streets) and as required by the Plan, the West Cary Street Planning Committee was formed. A few excerpts from the Plan are as follows: 1) RRHA will be the project manager for the redevelopment efforts. 2) Total City funding for the plan will be $15,551,000 (which included CIP funds, CDBG funds, etc.) over a… Read more »

Kevin Anderson
Kevin Anderson
11 years ago

The gas station might not be visually appealing but the idea that the city would contribute to this beyond utilities/infrastructure is absurd. I want to be clear though that I’m disappointed at the city’s original plan, I understand the committee is just doing their job. Perhaps its time to update the 1997 plan based on the current economic situation? Additionally, the people who shop there might not be the most upstanding 5-star citizens but give me a break. Interacting with people from the entire socioeconomic spectrum is a basic tenet of urban life. I’ve been to this gas station hundreds… Read more »

Mr powers
Mr powers
11 years ago

hey I like that gas station and I eat there everyday on the way back from my run. I go down to texas beach…run the entire james river loop 9 miles! On the way back I get some chicken and a big gatorade and say high to the hot chicks around there. my last six girlfriends this past month were from that gas station. Plus I get gas there and I buy all my loto tickets there and I wash my clothes and hats there. Develop it? It is already developed….it’s a freakin gas station! I need gas, girls, chicken… Read more »

Julia
Julia
11 years ago

Brett:
“it would just be nicer if they didn’t sell single beers and so much fried food. There needs to be a proper place to shop where folks have access to healthy foods and a safe environment.”

Wow. Really? It’s a viable business selling product that people are buying. That means he should be compensated for the market value of the business not just the land. If he is even selling. Kevin is absolutely right. I own two businesses within walking distance and I sell single beers and fried food, just not gas…

Phil Gardner
Phil Gardner
11 years ago

The city’s roll in this should be to make sure the current owner is abiding by the current zoning, building, business, EPA laws , rules and regulations and to make sure the future owner does the same and guide them in the event they want to apply for an alternate use. Period ! The City should not be in and should run away from the business of determining highest and best use of private property. Much less take on the roll of partner, banker, financier, thief.

Brett
Brett
11 years ago

I’m not saying tear it down and build a whole foods. The man has a right to be there. And people will always want chicken and beer, it is two of my favorite things in the whole world. But if you don’t think by stopping the sale of single beers would help reduce loitering and the crime in certain areas then you are crazy. How many upstanding citizens do you know that drink beers on the curb from a paper bag at 10am? Anyone you would hire? Of course not. People make money selling lots of things. That doesn’t mean… Read more »

RobinsonSt
RobinsonSt
11 years ago

It’s nice to see a good amount of interest in the Cary & Meadow St Gas Station. However, I think some people forget the purpose of the West Cary St Planning Committee. The neighborhood was actively involved in creating the Comittee’s plan, and it clearly stated the this gas station needed to be redeveloped. The whole purpose of the plan was to create a safer residential neighborhood along the Cary St corridor, which was previously plagued by blight and crime. While it is nice to have a gas station nearby, the gas station at Meadow and Cary is nearly the… Read more »

Michael
Michael
11 years ago

This is, pardon the language, but fucking ridiculous. You want a quarter of a million dollars, to spur private development, in an area that really doesn’t have much going for it? Does the city get paid back for the loaning of funds? Basil, I see your comment, but what’s going up there is certainly not Section 8 Housing… Spend that money on developing something useful, like, I don’t know, bike lanes to connect VCU students from the fan to campus? If Mr. Eck is so concerned about servicing the community, I’m failing to see why his idea is the best… Read more »