Developer readies first phase of ‘city within a city’ on Jeff Davis Highway

Workers continue to overhaul the former power generating station at Port City that also doubled as an amateur wrestling ring in the 90s. Many of the amenities are being placed in this area. (J. Elias O’Neal)

The transformation of the former American Tobacco Co. complex into hundreds of apartments is nearing an initial milestone.

Developer Tom Wilkinson is readying the first phase of 135 apartments at the 11-acre site at 800 Jefferson Davis Highway, now dubbed Port City.

The units will be ready for tenants in the coming months, said Wilkinson, whose Maramjen Investments LLC is behind the project. Leasing of the income-based apartments is slated to begin in about 30 days.

The total cost for the first phase of redevelopment is about $35 million, he said.

Walter Parks Architects is designing the apartment spaces. KBS Inc. is the general contractor. Genesis Properties is handling leasing.

All the apartment units will have washer and dryers, full-sized kitchens and various one- and two-bedroom floor plans. (J. Elias O’Neal)

A portion of the funding for phase one comes from $13.85 million in tax-exempt bonds issued through Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority for the project, Wilkinson said. BB&T Capital Markets orchestrated that side of the funding.

The project will qualify for $17 million in low-income and historic tax credits to be paid out in installments and used as equity. In the meantime, Cedar Rapids Bank & Trust provided a $9 million bridge loan that gets repaid as equity payments are received, Wilkinson said.

Work on phase two, which calls for about 155 additional apartments, could begin sometime during the first quarter of 2019, Wilkinson said – adding another $35 million in investment to the Port City development.

Many of the residential units in the second phase will be carved out of former tobacco storage warehouses on the Port City property, along with 23 artist studios that allow artists to live and create from the confines of their home.

“This is truly going to be a city within a city once this project is completed,” Wilkinson said.

An overhead shot of the ongoing construction at the sprawling complex. (Courtesy of KBS Inc.)

The American Tobacco Co. complex dates to the mid-1920s. Since closing decades ago, the site sat vacant and drew the attention of graffiti artists, vagabonds and vandals.

As development momentum began shifting further south of downtown, Wilkinson and his partners purchased the sprawling complex about a year ago for around $4 million, with the promise of providing workforce housing and artist residences.

Port City’s amenities package, which includes 213 spaces of onsite parking, a leasing office, fitness center and community room, also are included in the first phase. A swimming pool and additional exterior gathering spaces are being planned for phase two.

Many of the amenities are being placed in the facility’s former power-generating station at the rear of the complex, which in the 1990s played host to an underground wrestling ring.

“When we got the keys, there were still wrestling pamphlets on the ground,” said Vie Lowden, an investor overseeing the site’s sweeping transformation.

Graffiti art will be a cornerstone of Port City’s redevelopment. (J. Elias O’Neal)

As part of the center’s redevelopment, Lowden said much of the graffiti, which is about former wrestlers who performed at the site, will be preserved as part of the community room’s interior design.

Other graffiti is being preserved in several of the common areas of the four-story complex, and a handful of residential units. Much of the maple hardwoods are being preserved throughout the facility, along with many of the original windows, wood-paneled walls and concrete flooring.

Leave a Reply

2 Comments on "Developer readies first phase of ‘city within a city’ on Jeff Davis Highway"

Notify of
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Bruce Milam

it’s quite the development and spreads the renaissance of Manchester further south down Jeff Davis Hwy. the artist live/work concept is an interesting one that Wilkerson is also planning for Petersburg at Southline. I hope he can pull them both off.

Michael Dodson

“Full size kitchen”. What is that? The article pictures looks about the size of a typical Fan narrow galley kitchen. And that is not full size!

Looking forward to see the finished results.