Developers launch Shockoe apartment conversion, look to acquire city block

Crews work on the roof of the Garbers building at 2201 E. Franklin St. (Jonathan Spiers)

Crews work on the roof of the Garbers building at 2201 E. Franklin St. (Jonathan Spiers)

A team of developers is moving forward with its next apartment project in Shockoe Bottom while consolidating ownership of an entire city block.

Frequent collaborators and fellow Hokies Marc Galt of Sensei Development and Chris Johnson and Tom Dickey of The Monument Cos. have started work on the building at 2201 E. Franklin St. – a four-story structure that previously housed garage-door company Garbers of Richmond – which they plan to convert into a 59-unit apartment complex. Johnson put the project cost at about $7.8 million.

At the same time, the group is under contract to purchase the rest of the block between Franklin and East Main streets and 21st and 22nd streets – a 1.3-acre property that includes the former Wolff-Fording & Co. buildings at 2220 E. Main St. and 2213 E. Franklin St., as well as a surface parking lot.

Johnson confirmed the Wolff-Fording deal, which was brokered by John Jay Schwartz of Have Site Will Travel. Schwartz said the deal is expected to close this year, pending a rezoning request that’s been submitted to the city.

Schwartz said the developers jumped at the property when it was put back on the market after being under contract with another group. He said the property was under contract within 24 hours.

“There had been a number of interested parties. They were always in our mind,” Schwartz said of Monument and Sensei. “Based on their work next door, they became the most viable prospect, and they were friends with the owner, so it made it an easy decision.

That request seeks to rezone the rest of the block from light industrial to central business district, as was done for the Garbers building last year. Matthew Ebinger with the city planning department said the request is being processed, adding that more information from the developers is needed before it goes before the planning commission.

The former Wolff-Fording & Co. building at 2220 E. Main St. (Jonathan Spiers)

The former Wolff-Fording & Co. building at 2220 E. Main St. (Jonathan Spiers)

The developers said they do not yet know what they will do with the rest of the block, which a city assessment recently valued at $2.51 million. The property is owned by Sunset Strip Associates, which made headlines in 2014 for a legal dispute with Wolff-Fording & Co., a dance apparel and equipment maker that previously leased the buildings.

Galt said a mix of uses is being considered for the site, which he said could involve underground parking due to the sloped elevation along 23rd Street.

He acknowledged the rezoning would allow them to renovate the 85,000-square-foot complex as apartments, though plans remain in development.

“We’re looking short and long term, given the price point,” Galt said. “It’s only economically viable to do a historic tax credit project.”

Johnson said the properties appealed to them following their previous collaboration on Shockoe Valley Heights, a $6.7 million, 57-unit apartment building at 200 N. 20th St. The group has teamed up on more than a dozen other projects, including the Matrix Midtown apartments at First and Canal streets in Monroe Ward.

Meanwhile, the group has been issued permits and started prep work on the Garbers building – known locally as “Garbers” to area bands that for years used it as practice space.

The group purchased the building from Garbers of Richmond last October for $1.59 million through an entity called 2201 East Franklin Street Development LLC. Garbers of Richmond since has moved to Sandston.

The LLC’s principal office matches that of local developer Genesis Properties, which put the building under contract and secured the rezoning. Johnson said they were working with Genesis on planning and execution but agreed to take the lead as developer and owner as the project progressed. Galt said he, Johnson and Dickey are majority owners of the entity.

Plans call for 30 one-bedroom apartments, 25 two-bedrooms and four three-bedrooms, as well as a 1,400-square-foot commercial space on the ground floor. Monthly rents for the apartments will range from $1,000 to $1,900.

The joint venture will involve historic tax credits and is being financed by Union Bank. The architect is Walter Parks, who likewise designed Shockoe Valley Heights, and the group also is working with architect Mimi Sadler of historic preservation firm Sadler & Whitehead.

The group aims to complete the Garbers site in December.

Galt said the project would pay tribute to and incorporate the building’s history as a haven for local musicians.

“We’re going to try to incorporate a lot of that history in the building,” Galt said, referring to decorative elements and a “mini-museum” that would showcase the building’s musical past.

The building was among five apartment rehab projects in the greater Richmond area included last year on the Virginia Housing Development Authority’s priority list to receive tax-exempt bond financing. Two of those projects were slated to receive funding, while the Garbers building and others were considered contenders for the next round.

The project – referred to in state documents as the Franklin Street Apartments rehab – was projected to cost $7.8 million, according to those documents. Johnson said Wednesday that figure remained approximately accurate.

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Holly Hilton
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Hopefully the new owners will get rid of the Methadone Clinic.

Patti Wright
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So many people…so little retail. As the population grows rapidly, the growth of practical retail remains excruciatingly slow. Residents still have to make a road trip for home goods, clothing, etc. Looking forward to walkable neighborhood shopping…

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