After entertaining offers in recent months, the owners of the Movieland at Boulevard Square cinema complex at the edge of Scott’s Addition have a real estate deal in the works that could bring a new sort of attraction to the neighborhood.
Bow Tie Partners, the New York-based owner of movie theater chain Bow Tie Cinemas, is in talks with a prospective buyer for the 17 acres the company owns at the corner of North Arthur Ashe Boulevard and West Leigh Street, according to sources with knowledge of the deal.
It’s unclear who the buyer is, but sources say it is an out-of-town firm that’s willing to pay more than $30 million for the property. The price is expected to rival or potentially exceed the higher end of recent per-acre pricing in that part of the city, one of the most sought-after sections of town for new development.
The unidentified buyer, sources say, would look to use the property for a so-called non-conforming use not permitted under its current TOD-1 zoning.
Given the wide range of uses allowed under TOD and based on the high price, sources say a likely bet in such a scenario would be a casino development.
The assemblage includes the movie theater and its 11 acres, as well as an adjoining 6-acre, mostly wooded site that’s lined with power lines and runs parallel to the railroad tracks.
Messages left for Bow Tie representatives were not returned by press time.
CBRE’s Andrew Ferguson and Eric Williford are handling the listing. Williford said he couldn’t comment on the status of the property.
The company put the property on the market earlier in the year, only to pull it down as the pandemic hit. It then relisted it this summer and began fielding offers.
Bow Tie paid $2.14 million for the 11-acre parcel in 2006. It opened the movie complex on the property a few years later. Then in 2011 it acquired the additional property on Leigh from the state for $895,000. The total assemblage was most recently assessed by the city at nearly $21 million.
The rumblings of a potential casino on the site come as the city is ramping up its efforts toward an expected RFP for a casino and resort development within the city limits.
The first step in that process is a public survey, which Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration has been conducting since Dec. 1. The survey, which ends tonight at 11:59 p.m., asks citizens what factors the city should consider when fielding proposals for a resort casino.
The responses are expected to inform an RFP the city expects to put out later this month, with a submission window open until late February 2021. From those, a casino operator would be selected by the city, after input from an outside casino consultant, ahead of an expected voter referendum on Nov. 2, 2021.
Respondents to the RFP would be vying for the one state casino license allocated to Richmond, which was among four other cities in the commonwealth granted the ability to host a resort casino by a law passed in the General Assembly this year.
The others are Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville and Bristol, all of which have already successfully held voter referendums that approved casino developments.
Caesers Entertainment is planning a $400 million casino project in Danville. A group including the chairman of Hard Rock International has a $400 million project planned for Bristol. Gaming company Ruth Street has a $300 million casino in store for Portsmouth. And in Norfolk, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe is eyeing a $500 million casino complex along the waterfront.
The Pamunkey also are the only group thus far to publicly state their interest in building a casino and resort in Richmond. Earlier this year, it announced its plans for a $350 million complex on 36 acres just outside Manchester on the city’s Southside.
That proposal would likely compete against any others that are pitched during Richmond’s RFP process.
As for Bow Tie’s long-term future in Richmond, should the Bow Tie deal lead to the closure of its theater on Arthur Ashe Boulevard, the company does have at least one of other option in hand for an alternate theater site in the city: an entire block it owns downtown at 309 E. Main St.
It paid more than $3 million for the property in 2005, the year before it bought the site at Boulevard and Leigh.
The company lists the downtown property on its website as Jefferson Square, describing it as an “80,580 square foot future development site.”
BizSense reporter Mike Platania contributed to this report.