A local development team is lining up what it bets will be a strike for the city’s hottest neighborhood.
Rob Long, a former investment banker with BB&T Capital Markets, is leading a team that includes former Jefferson Hotel restaurant director Ben Eubanks to bring a high-end “boutique” bowling alley to a mostly vacant lot between the Boulevard and the Cookie Factory Lofts.
To be called River City Roll, the $5 million project is planned for a 2-acre plot at 939 Myers St., a block east of the Boulevard across from Scott’s Addition. The 25,000-square-foot facility would include 150 parking spaces and replace a pair of dilapidated storage buildings on the site.
Long, a St. Christopher’s School and UVA alumnus who moved back to Richmond in 2014, said he came across the so-called boutique bowling concept – alleys with fewer lanes and an emphasis on high-end food and finishes – in bigger cities while working debt capital raises for some of the country’s largest corporations.
“I lived in San Antonio, Charlotte and Boston, where these concepts were doing very well. Being from Richmond and understanding the market here, I knew this was a concept that could work here,” he said.
After considering locations including Regency Square and the now-vacant Southern Season space in Libbie Mill Midtown, Long said the team decided on a long-term land lease with Interbake Retail Partners LLC, an entity led by Midlothian-based Rebkee Co., which redeveloped the Cookie Factory Lofts and owns the adjacent parcel planned for River City Roll. The team executed the lease Feb. 16.
“You have so much happening within this vicinity of the city … it just made sense to start this venture here,” said Long, who said his team is eyeing additional bowling alleys locally and nationally.
“Given the renewed activity in the city, especially Scott’s Addition, we feel like this model can be very successful in Richmond,” he said.
With 20 lanes, River City Roll would be smaller than other area bowling alleys. Uptown Alley in Midlothian totals 40 lanes, while AMF Sunset Lanes and Shrader Lanes in Henrico total 32 and 50 lanes, respectively. Another local operator, Bowl America, has four locations in the Richmond area.
Long said each lane at River City Roll will be named for a Richmond street or landmark and include leather seating and custom-made tables, where wait staff will deliver drinks and food. Eubanks, a former restaurant director at The Jefferson, is overseeing River City Roll’s food and beverage concept.
“[Eubanks] is very well known for his craft and attention to detail,” Long said. “Our food and beverage options are going to be very memorable.”
While the menu remains under development, Long hinted at American cuisine selections such as wood-fired flatbread dishes and other shareable items.
The venue will include shuffleboard and Skee-Ball and a stage for live music. Long said it also will include private event space and lanes that can be sectioned off for large parties or corporate events.
“We built that into the plan, because we know that corporations want that type of privacy,” Long said. “People we talked to about this concept saw that type of addition as an afterthought. We wanted to get ahead of it.”
Plans also call for a 1,800-square-foot covered patio with a fire pit and adjoining garage doors to help open up the building’s interior. A bar space will be equipped with TVs and stocked with beer from local breweries.
“We want it to be more than just a high-end bowling alley,” Long said. “We want there to be something for everyone, even those who don’t like to bowl.”
Long and his team are working with Richmond-based architect Price Simpson Harvey and Commonwealth Construction Management, which will oversee and manage the project.
A logo was designed by VCU Brandcenter student Billy Reano, who received a $1,000 prize from the team for his work. Long said the team is also working with Essex Bank and is finalizing its private investor base for the project.
Pending approval from the city, Long expects to break ground by early April and open River City Roll by early 2018.
Long left BB&T last month to pursue River City Roll full time. For the project to work, the 29-year-old said, it must appeal to millennials, the dominant demographic in the Scott’s Addition area.
With over 4,000 apartments within a mile of the River City Roll site, about 52 percent of Scott’s Addition residents are between the ages of 21 and 34, according to U.S. Census data. The average household income in Scott’s Addition is about $80,000 a year – another statistic that Long said is favorable for the project.
“That’s huge, because this demographic is more than likely to not have any children, work nearby and have the income to afford such an amenity,” Long said, noting the site’s proximity to other entertainment destinations such as The Diamond, Bow Tie Cinemas Movieland and the Washington Redskins training center.
“Being surrounded by so many different places that draw (people) to the area, bringing this concept to the neighborhood become very ideal,” he said.
Added Eubanks: “The millennial consumer demands more than what a traditional bar or restaurant offers. It really boils down to the complete and total experience, and being served quality food and drinks, all while being completely and totally engaged. That’s been our plan all along.”
River City Roll adds to an area that’s fast becoming an entertainment hotspot, with more breweries and restaurants lured to Scott’s Addition and the neighboring Boulevard corridor.
Local businessman Robert Lupica is planning a bar-arcade concept in a 6,300-square-foot space at 3121 W. Leigh St., while restaurateurs Jason Alley, Jay Bayer and Michele Jones plan to bring an arcade-brewery-restaurant combo to the neighborhood.
Real estate agent Bill Hartsock is launching Richmond Wine Station, a self-serve wine bar that’s taking over a wing of the Gather coworking building at 2930 W. Broad St., next to Three Notch’d Brewing Co. Work is set to begin on Statement Brewing Co. in the former SunTrust branch at 3022 W. Broad St., and Gelati Celesti recently opened a location at 1400 N. Boulevard.
Long said River City Roll will add to that activity while introducing a different entertainment option to the area. He said his team would like to take the concept on the road, eventually rolling it out into other parts of the city and nationally.
“That’s the goal,” Long said. “But for now, Scott’s Addition is set to be our base.”