A Maryland-based developer is weeks away from closing on a purchase and beginning his planned resurrection of a long-dormant tobacco factory on the city’s Southside.
Chris Harrison, principal of C.A. Harrison Cos., said he plans to finalize a deal for the 15-acre Model Tobacco Co. complex at 1000 and 1100 Jefferson Davis Highway by the end of the month.
He said he plans to bring a mix of 275 apartment units, the bulk of which will be income-based.
In addition to renovating much of the site’s main Art Deco-style building into apartments, Harrison said the project also would include a 47,000-square-foot entertainment venue that would house a beer garden and space for a restaurant.
Harrison, who has not filed a development plan with the city, said construction is slated to begin toward the end of the second quarter, and will take about 18 months to complete. Richmond-based Walter Parks Architects is designing the project. A general contractor was not disclosed.
Harrison placed the sprawling property under contract in August 2017. Brokers Ryan Rilee and Tom Rosman of One South Commercial are representing the sellers, Charles and Eileen Keck, who have owned it since 1989.
He has hired Lory Markham, owner of local land-use consulting firm Markham Planning and One South Commercial agent, to lease the entertainment venue. She also helped the development firm to rezone the property last summer.
Harrison would not disclose the purchase price or cost estimate for the redevelopment project.
The property most recently was assessed for about $5.5 million, according to city real estate records.
The Model Tobacco complex is comprised of seven buildings, most notably the Art Deco, six-story, 222,000-square-foot building fronting Jefferson Davis Highway that dates to 1940.
The site was one of 13 historic properties that the state’s Department of Historic Resources added to the Virginia Landmarks Register last month. The state division plans to forward that list of properties to the National Park Service for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.
Designating a property to the state or national registers allows the owner to pursue historic rehab tax credits when restoring the building.
A history of development
Harrison’s company has completed mixed-use and multifamily developments throughout Washington, D.C., North Carolina and Virginia — primarily throughout metro Richmond.
The firm developed The Argon apartments on Cutshaw Avenue in the West End and the 2001 East apartments on East Broad Street in Union Hill.
Farther south in Petersburg, the company is preparing to begin work next quarter on a $20 million, mixed-use project on the site of the former Ramada Inn at 380 E. Washington St., along with parcels of land at 326 and 400 E. Washington St. The city purchased the site for $750,000 last spring.
The Model Tobacco facility has been eyed for mixed-use redevelopment for decades — part of the city’s plan to jump-start investment along the struggling Jefferson Davis corridor.
The Kecks have fielded ideas from developers through the years, including one proposal in 2012 to convert the site into 600 apartments and include a mix of commercial uses.
Last summer, Richmond City Council members approved rezoning the site to B-6 mixed-use under certain provisions that included prohibiting demolition of the Art Deco building and the complex’s former power plant facility. Harrison must also preserve the “Model Tobacco” signage on both ends of the six-story building.
Aside from rezoning the main Model Tobacco campus, council members also granted Harrison’s request to rezone a collection of adjacent industrial parcels at 210 and 212 Brinser St.; 101,103,105,115 and 117 Thurman St.; and 2400 Elton St. to mixed-use. Harrison purchased the lots in May 2018 for a combined $190,000, according to city property records.
A revival of the Model Tobacco property would add to increased development interest along Jefferson Davis.
Less than a block away, the former American Tobacco Co. complex at 800 Jefferson Davis Highway, – now dubbed Port City – is beginning to lease out 134 apartments in its first phase of an expected 292 total units.