In its urban development debut, a local construction company is trying to create what it envisions as a Carytown for Manchester.
RJ Smith Cos. has embarked on a $5 million investment in the Southside neighborhood that will add up to four commercial spaces, aimed at restaurants, retail and offices, and 34 apartment units along Hull and Bainbridge streets.
And that’s just the first phase. Led by President Richard Smith and Senior Vice President Janet King, the project would then tackle the 1500 block of Hull Street in late 2016 and into 2017, where the company has purchased three properties and plans to add more commercial space. That will bring the total investment up to almost $9 million.
“This is a long-term investment,” Smith said. “We’re putting in three years of work from here on out.”
The project, dubbed Urban Charm, is aimed at making Manchester a more walkable neighborhood, something similar to Carytown – perhaps the Southside’s own “Hulltown,” King said.
The first phase is already underway, with construction crews busy renovating 1319 and 1321 Hull St., which were constructed in 1920 and will have 20 apartments with a mix of one- and two- bedroom units.
The buildings will also house two commercial spaces, a 2,000-square-foot space designed for a restaurant and another 1,000-square-foot space the developers said is flexible depending on what a potential tenant wants. Construction should wrap up on the two spaces by late spring of 2016.
Across 14th Street, the company will have two more commercial spaces at 1401 and 1405 Hull St., each 2,000 square feet. Smith and King said they’d like to secure another restaurant tenant there. Construction should start no later than next spring.
The first phase also includes the Bainbridge Art Center at 1312 Bainbridge St., which RJ Smith purchased this summer. The center will be demolished and replaced by a new 9,000-square-foot building with about 14 apartments. Demolition will start next month, and construction should start in late spring of next year. The building formerly housed artist Mehmet Sahin Altug, who is in the process of moving his studio to Carytown.
Both Smith and King have connections to the neighborhood – each with a parent who lived in the area. Smith said the area is in desperate need of more commercial space with all the residents filling in Manchester’s new apartment projects. Signs on the buildings declare that the developers are “Bringing it back.”
“We want to bring commerce west of Commerce,” Smith said. “The only thing left is retail.”
Founded in 1995, RJ Smith provides construction services throughout Virginia, including general contracting, demolition, utilities, concrete recycling and snow removal. This is its first venture into the urban development scene.
RJ Smith is acting as its own general contractor on the project and working with architect Sean Wheeler of Walter Parks Architects. It is seeking historic tax credits for the existing buildings and has secured a loan with First Capital Bank.
The company purchased the Manchester properties gradually, closing on five in April and two in October, city records show. The plans include 1319, 1321, 1401 and 1405 Hull St. and 1312 Bainbridge St. in the first phase, then 1503, 1505 and 1511 Hull St. in the second phase. City records show the company paid about $1 million for all the properties.
Broker Yasmine Hamad of Colliers International represented each of the separate sellers in the transactions, and represented both the seller and the buyer in the Bainbridge Street deal.
Hamad approached many owners on Hull Street and encouraged them to put their buildings on the market, noticing that many were prime spots for historic tax credit rehabs.
“The market conditions were ripe,” she said.
She still has five properties on the market, in the 1200, 1300 and 1400 blocks of Hull Street.
Martin Blum of Colliers is handling the leasing for the commercial spaces at 1401 and 1405 Hull St., while Terry Earnest of Chesterfield Commercial Realty is working leasing on the space at 1319 and 1321 Hull St.
Elsewhere in Manchester, construction continues to boom, especially on apartment projects. Two of the largest plans in the works are Thalhimer Realty Partners’ ongoing redevelopment of the Reynolds South site and Fountainhead Properties’ plans for two 16-story towers.