The run on Manchester real estate has brought new development opportunities ready to enter new territory.
First there were apartments; then restaurants and retail began trickling into the neighborhood as residential density increased. Now, a local development team is looking to add one of the largest new office developments south of the central business district along Hull Street.
Richmond-based WVS Cos.’ Jason Vickers-Smith and Richard Souter, along with Tom Papa, who runs Fountainhead Properties, are planning to construct a six-story, 135,000-square-foot office building as part of the group’s South Falls development.
The $100 million development is taking shape on a 3.74-acre, quasi-island site of a former paper mill at 111 Hull St. west of the Mayo Bridge alongside the James River.
Demolition work has started at the site, as construction crews ready for phase one of South Falls: a 14-story, 255-unit apartment building, which Vickers-Smith said would be ready for residential occupancy by 2020.
Both development teams are working with city planners on the future office building, Vickers-Smith said, with plans to deliver it by fall 2020.
“This is really the missing piece for South Falls,” Vickers-Smith said. “With the continued residential growth of Manchester … adding Class A office space to the neighborhood is key to its continued progress.
“It’s a big project, but one we think is going to bring an added benefit not just to Manchester, but to the whole city,” he said. “This is an important piece that’s missing from Manchester, and we feel is going to be well-received by the market.”
Office at South Falls
At 135,000 square feet, the office building would be the largest new commercial building built in Manchester since SunTrust established its 565,000-square-foot mortgage headquarters in the neighborhood about 25 years ago.
The building is being designed by Virginia Beach-based Saunders + Crouse Architects, which designed Rocketts Landing and, more recently, the Dollar Tree headquarters building in Chesapeake.
Plans call for each floor to include 22,000 square feet of office space that can be wholly leased or accommodate smaller tenants, said Ned Roberts, who with fellow JLL broker Gareth Jones has been tapped to lease the building. The building also will offer vista views of the river and have floor-to-ceiling glass walls.
About 3,000 square feet of ground-level retail fronting the canal at the entryway of the development also is planned and will be leased by JLL.
The office building will share a 16,000-square-foot plaza area with the 14-story apartment building that will include a pool, fitness facility, a pavilion building with a kitchen, grilling stations, an on-site observation deck overlooking the James and outdoor seating areas.
A three-story shared parking deck also is planned that will provide four parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet of office space in the building — a ratio that rivals area suburban office parking lots.
“We think the parking is going to be a big draw,” Jones said. “You’re not going to find that kind of parking ratio in the CBD that can be used after hours as well.”
Tenants will have potential for signage opportunities on the building, which will be visible from Interstate 95 and several bridges crossing over into Manchester.
Roberts said JLL is going after all types of office users, including high-tech, co-working and large-scale headquarters. He said the area’s high number of young working professionals with college degrees has been an attraction for potential office tenants.
“We’re seeing a lot of interest in the building,” Roberts said. “A large number of the professionals that live in Manchester work in the central business district, so several of the companies we’ve been speaking with are interested in the site just based off that.”
Long before Manchester was annexed by Richmond in the first half of the 20th century, the area was proven to be a business magnet.
While it’s taken several decades for the former town-turned-neighborhood to recover momentum, Vickers-Smith said Manchester finally is revisiting a former chapter in its rich history: job creator.
“For years it was adaptive reuse, apartments and some retail,” Vickers-Smith said. “Now, you’re seeing residential density increase and commercial interest increase in the area.”
With the addition of the South Falls office building, a four-block stretch of Hull Street between East Fifth Street and the Mayo Bridge is set to add 172,000 square feet of office space to Manchester in the next two years.
Lynx Ventures, launched by a group that includes former Fountainhead Properties co-founder Rick Gregory, is readying a 2-acre surface lot at 400 Hull St. for a $50 million to $60 million mixed-use development dubbed The Current that will bring 40,000 square feet of office space to the area.
Once both office projects are completed, they will represent the highest concentration of new office development in South Richmond.
It also will be the second-highest rate of anticipated office space in the city, behind Dominion Energy’s plans for a second, 17-story, 911,000-square-foot building on the site of its existing 21-story One James River Plaza building at 701 E. Cary St. The site is next door to Dominion’s recently constructed 20-story tower at 600 E. Canal St.
Aside from Manchester’s residential growth, Vickers-Smith said access to major interstates, and the neighborhood’s grid layout, are ideal for both workers and residents looking to easily maneuver the area.
“It’s already proven to be a quality area for office development given SunTrust and UPS’s corporate presence,” Jones said. “The infrastructure is already in place to get workers who don’t live in the area onto major thoroughfares like (Interstate) 95 and 64.”
Roberts said the city is in need of more modern office space — something the South Falls complex would add to the Richmond market.
“When we talked with the city (economic development authority), and the state EDC, they welcomed this type of development because it’s needed in the market,” Roberts said.
WVS and Fountainhead have built a regional reputation on residential development in the past several years.
The two firms are also behind a $58 million, 12-story apartment building under construction at 1001 E. Byrd St., on a 1.2-acre site between WVS’s Locks development and Riverfront Plaza. They also are working together on a 105-unit apartment building at West Grace Street and Stuart Circle that’s replacing a parking lot behind St. John’s United Church of Christ.
South Falls is a change of pace for the development team, one that Vickers-Smith said could change the course of development in Manchester for years to come.
“It’s been exciting to watch Manchester come back to life again,” Vickers-Smith said. “To think, years ago, what this place looked like … and to see where it is now is amazing.”