VCU buys Grace St. restaurant property

The Sahara restaurant and hookah bar building has been advertised for sale. Photos by Michael Thompson.

The Sahara restaurant and hookah bar building has been on the market since last summer. Photos by Michael Thompson.

The deserted Sahara restaurant in the heart of VCU will soon vanish like a mirage.

The VCU Real Estate Foundation has purchased the rundown 3,900-square-foot building at 813 W. Grace St. for $2.5 million. The deal closed Thursday, according to university spokesman Mike Porter.

The sale comes two days after the foundation closed on a 31,000-square-foot office building at 111 N. Fourth St. The building, previously owned by Media General, was sold for $3.95 million.

The acquisitions are part of a $15 million bond package the university approved late last year. The funds are also to be used to refinance existing debt and pay for renovations and improvements to five properties the foundation already owns.

The bonds will also fund the demolition of the Sahara building, which is sandwiched between newer VCU structures constructed in recent years, was put on the market last summer. Porter said there is specific timetable for the Sahara project, but that the property will have a temporary use as an “outdoor student-centered gathering space.”

The Sahara building and VCU have a history. The restaurant sued the university in 2012, arguing that two neighboring university construction projects were allegedly disrupting its business. The case was voluntarily dismissed.

At the time, BizSense reported that Sahara owner Zuhir Idlbi said VCU attempted to buy the property, but he wouldn’t sell.

Built in 1975, the Sahara building and site are collectively assessed at $836,000, according to city records. The property was owned by Konstantinos and Ekaterini Hatzigiannidis, who purchased it in 1998 for $350,000.

The acquisitions of the Sahara and Media General buildings are the latest for VCU, which has purchased multiple properties in and around its Monroe Campus in recent years. Recent purchases have included an apartment building at 616 W. Grace St. and a former gas station property at the southeast corner of West Broad and North Belvidere streets, across from the site of the under-construction Institute for Contemporary Art.

Porter said no decisions have been made as to the use of the former gas station site.

The other VCU properties that will see bond-funded renovations include the Technology Administration Building at 701 W. Broad St.; administrative and academic facilities at 14 N. Laurel St. and 811-817 S. Cathedral Place; the VCU Brandcenter at 103 S. Jefferson St.; and the former Commonwealth Cancer Institute building at 1109 W. Marshall St.

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Jake smith
Jake smith
5 years ago

Nice to know local owned business are rundown. People question why DC has no soul it’s because of big companies buying up small ones

Chris Crews
Chris Crews
5 years ago
Reply to  Jake smith

Not all locally-owned businesses are in the shape Sahara was. Look at Carytown. there’s been an influx of corporate and franchise businesses, yet a strong community of private and locally owned ones. I would argue that Richmond has a pretty vibrant small business community, both complementing and in spite of our big businesses. The issue with Sahara was two-fold. The owner held out and neglected the property, no doubt in anticipation of VCU making an offer. He was also holding out in a market which was increasingly becoming a very real part of the VCU campus – for good or… Read more »