Douglas Development scraps hotel plans for former DEQ building; now opting for apartments

Douglas Development is now planning to convert the building into apartments. (BizSense file photo)

The damage inflicted on the hotel industry by the coronavirus has led a prominent Washington, D.C.-based developer to shift gears on one of its already in-progress projects in downtown Richmond.

Douglas Development is opting to convert the former Virginia Department of Environmental Quality building at 629 E. Main St. into apartments, rather than its initial plans for a hotel, managing principal Norman Jemal confirmed last week.

Jemal said the fallout from the pandemic influenced the decision to scrap the hotel plans.

“In light of what’s happening in the hospitality industry, we pivoted to apartments,” he said. “The building is a very well-built building that fortunately works very well for both a hotel or apartments.”

Douglas this year filed plans to convert the 126,000-square-foot building into a dual-branded Hyatt hotel. Now, in lieu of 210 hotel rooms, the 12-story building will house 189 market-rate apartments, most of which will be one bedroom or studio units, with a few two-bedroom ones.

The building, which Douglas bought in 2001 for $4.2 million, was home to the DEQ until 2018, when the state agency moved to the Bank of America center.

Jemal said they’ve begun some demolition and expect to begin buildout in the fourth quarter of this year. ADO is the project’s architect and L.F. Jennings is the general contractor.

Douglas Jemal

A block east, Douglas also is working on converting the former Stumpf Hotel building into apartments at 728 E. Main St. The firm is beginning to lease those 24 apartments and hope to deliver them this summer.

While it’s busy in the Central Business District, Douglas continues to ponder the future of the assemblage of properties it owns in Jackson Ward and the Arts District. Many of those buildings have sat vacant for years, but Jemal said they’re looking to advance on those soon.

“We’re embarking on (the DEQ Project) and we’ll continue to go through our portfolio and try to add value to the community and the assets as best we can,” he said.

Jemal also said the company remains interested in redeveloping the Richmond Coliseum and surrounding properties, and made that public with an unsolicited offer to the city this year by Norman’s father, Douglas Jemal.

The offer, made shortly after the Navy Hill project was killed by City Council, included purchasing the Coliseum and neighboring properties, with plans to renovate the existing arena and building retail, office and grocery space around it without any public funding. That offer, however, expired in late May. Another offer from a separate group was made for part of the Navy Hill area.

Norman said his understanding is that they’re awaiting another request for proposals from the city, which is considering declaring the Navy Hill properties as surplus ahead of an RFP.

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