After soliciting development proposals earlier this year, Virginia Union University has closed on its purchase of a neighboring motel property it has eyed for an expansion of its campus in Richmond’s Northside.
University officials held a press conference Tuesday announcing the purchase of the former Budget Inn of Richmond motel at 2201 N. Lombardy St., across the intersection of Lombardy and Brook Road from VUU’s campus.
The university paid $2.9 million for the site in a deal that closed Dec. 5, city property records show. The property was purchased from Surjaya Corp., which purchased the motel in 2006 for $1.2 million.
The latest city assessment valued the 0.9-acre property at $543,000.
President Hakim Lucas, who was joined at the press conference by fellow university administrators and City Councilman Chris Hilbert, said the project will allow VUU to expand beyond its existing campus footprint.
With the purchase, Lucas said, “We have said that we now control our environment, that we are going to be a player in the city, that someone else is not going to dictate how we expand and not going to dictate our future.”
Lucas said the site is planned for a multi-story, mixed-use building that would house businesses on the street level and educational programming above.
He said the university would like for the building’s upper floors to house a 50- or 60-bed hospitality management program and the ground floor to consist of storefronts for small businesses. He said VUU is looking for minority-owned small businesses to fill those spaces.
Noting the retail component, Lucas said, “That’s important, because we want to do a project that lends back to the tax base.”
A conceptual rendering and site plan displayed Tuesday showed a four-story, primarily glass-sided building with signage reading “The Union.” The renderings and site plan, both by architecture firm BCWH (now Quinn Evans), were titled “Hotel conceptual study” and detailed rooms labeled “conference center,” “restaurant” and “guest rooms.”
Officials stressed that the project remains conceptual, though Lucas said a development firm has been selected from among two responses the university received to an RFP it put out earlier this year. Lucas said he could not yet disclose the developer, though he shared that the firm is minority-owned and Virginia-based.
VUU made the purchase using available resources and without incurring debt, according to a release. The university had the property under contract as of late March.
The motel site was among properties included in a city-initiated rezoning this year aimed at implementing an area-wide revitalization plan adopted in 2016. Called the VUU/Chamberlayne Neighborhood Plan, it calls for mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly development that would create a “neighborhood center” in the area of Lombardy, Brook and Chamberlayne Avenue.
Hilbert, whose council district includes VUU, praised the purchase in his remarks, describing the move as “a leadership role for HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) across the country.”
“This is a twofer, as we say in politics, not only taking over a property that quite frankly hasn’t been our shining our star, but turning that into a beautiful building that will be functional for the university, as well as the community, the city and the region,” Hilbert said.
The purchase adds to other initiatives underway at VUU to enhance its campus, which dates back to the 19th century. Taylor & Parrish Construction is in the midst of an effort to restore the university’s Industrial Hall building, a sagging stone structure alongside the interstate that is planned to become an art gallery and museum.
Investment continues around campus as well, as a 224-unit apartment development is planned nearby at 2009 Brook Road and 2011 Northumberland Ave. The $32 million project by a group that includes local contracting firm Loughridge & Co. received city approval earlier this year.