Left in limbo by Justin French, Redskins legend completes Grace St. rehab

jewell building

The redevelopment of the Jewell Building at 316 E. Grace St. is nearing completion. (J. Elias O’Neal)

Darrell Green, known as one of the fastest men to ever play in the NFL, finally has outrun the fallout left by one of Richmond’s most notorious real estate developers.

The Hall of Famer and Redskins legend recently donned his developer hat in Richmond and is nearing completion of the rehab of 316 E. Grace St., a building he ended up with after being left on the hook by Justin French, a former developer serving a 16-year federal prison sentence on a wide-ranging tax credit scam.

Completion of the 6,500-square-foot mixed-use building is set for this year and will bring an end to a 10-year hassle for Green that began when his mortgage company loaned money to French.

“This wasn’t the road I intended to go down,” Green said. “We just got duped by someone who had no scruples and no integrity. The guy just basically tricked me; I thought he was going to run an in, but he ran an out and the next thing you know he ended up with a touchdown.”

The trouble began in 2007 when Green’s Rostormel Financial, a company founded to provide small real estate investment loans mostly to independent builders, assumed a $1 million loan from another mortgage company secured by French’s 316 E. Grace St. property.

Green, a Houston, Texas native who has ties to Richmond through his Youth Life Foundation, said the now-disgraced developer’s paperwork was in order and came highly recommended – making Green comfortable with the deal.

“The relationship with French was never in the plan,” Green said. “I didn’t want to play with the big boys … I just wanted to be a small mom-and-pop operation.

Darrell Green

Darrell Green

“The mortgage company said, ‘Hey, I got a customer that’s got strong “A” ratings, and they just need a few dollars for a short period of time; they got all the collaterals there, they own the land, they’re going to build a house, they got a great credit rating,’” Green recalled.   

But that comfort turned to panic when French stopped making payments on the note, forcing Green to take him to court in 2010 seeking $1.4 million in damages.

It would be money Green would never see, despite being awarded a default judgment for the balance nearly seven years ago. Ultimately, he took ownership of the building in 2011 as a result of the defaulted note.

“I didn’t know Justin French, I didn’t know the customers, I didn’t know the character of the people,” Green said. “All I could see was what people said on paper.”

The size of the unpaid French loan forced him to shutter Rostormel Financial, as he was left with a building worth barely half of what he was owed. So he waited, paying real estate taxes on the property until figuring out a move.

“I was interested in doing something,” Green said. “What that was, at the time, I was unsure about.”

Today, crews are converting the space into six apartments spread across three floors and a commercial unit fronting East Grace Street into a shell to entice future retail users. Dormant for decades, the nearly 100-year-old structure has been dubbed the Jewell Building, named for Green’s wife of 33 years.

The apartments and retail space are scheduled to be ready for occupancy and lease by yearend, Green said.

He hired Richmond-based Monument Cos. as general contractor to begin rehabbing the space in April.

Legend Property Groups, Monument Cos.’ property management arm, will oversee apartment leasing. Green has not yet hired a commercial brokerage to fill the 800-square-foot, ground-floor retail space.

The residential units, which include original concrete and hardwood flooring, stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and washer and dryers, will go for market rent, Green said. Market rent for downtown units range from $975 per month for a one-bedroom to $1,450 for a three-bedroom.

“I want it to complement what is happening down there because new life is being breathed into that area, and it is truly a joy to see and be a part of the growth taking place down there,” Green said.

The Jewell Building will be the latest installment of a wave of redevelopment and investment along the downtown Grace Street corridor.

A local investment banker purchased the long-idle former Honey Shop building at 405 E. Grace St. in September.

Food and drink establishments Monchou, Wong Gonzales, Champion Brewing Co., Julep’s, Maya’s, Secret Sandwich Society, Pasture, Rappahannock Oyster Co. and Pop’s Market have arrived in recent years.

The block also has been a hotbed for converting structures into mixed-use, including the ongoing renovation of 300 E. Grace St. into apartments, offices and a studio and tea bar for a yoga center.

Learning from his past dealings, Green, who serves as George Mason University’s associate athletics director and special assistant to the athletic director, said he’s ready to move forward – adding that he’s still bullish on Richmond.

“It’s about staying the course,” he said. “And that little crumb is in the mix. I’m the little boy sitting on the front row of the school picture.”

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3 Comments on "Left in limbo by Justin French, Redskins legend completes Grace St. rehab"

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Bruce Milam
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Congratulations to Darrell l for completing the job French botched. French had planned 16 micro apartments in that building, some not much bigger than 200 sf with no exterior lighting or fire escapes. When we met with Darrell we told him the building needed a new plan and it appears he took that advice. Once it’s stabilized he might eventually get his value from it and become whole financially. He got ripped off by a master. As for the football analogy, I suspect Justin is playing wide receiver on the Longest Yard team now. Just desserts!
Jeremy Connell
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Best of luck with this project Mr. Green. It is hard to believe that dust is still settling from French’s bad deeds. Perhaps time will heal the wounds left from what turned out to be a bad deal in 2007. On the bright side, the subject property just so happens to be in one of the hottest areas of RVA!!! Again, Best of luck!

Philip Riggan
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Mr. Green, thank you for your hard work and dedication to completing this project. I worked across the street for decades and have waited for the building to be renovated. Grace Street has improved over the years and I hope your patience pays off as the real estate values climb. You’re a good person and I was a fan of yours during your Washington career. I hope you still got the wheel in a foot race…

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