Petersburg warns developer to repair or raze blighted hotel, or city will

A sign announcing plans for the building stands in front of the former Ramada Inn between East Washington and Wythe streets in Petersburg. (Jonathan Spiers photos)

As it starts work on another building in South Richmond that it purchased less than a year ago, the development firm that more than five years ago announced plans to redevelop the former Ramada Inn in Petersburg is facing an ultimatum from that city to take action on the property.

City leaders in Petersburg said in a news conference Wednesday that they intend to obtain a court order requiring property owner C.A. Harrison Cos. to repair or demolish the blighted hotel building along Interstate 95 that’s become more of an eyesore than it was in late 2015, when the firm announced plans for a $20 million rehab.

If the Maryland-based firm doesn’t act on the property, which the city has deemed a danger to the public, the city would seek to demolish the building itself, with the roughly $1 million cost to do so becoming a lien on the property, Petersburg Mayor Samuel Parham said Wednesday.

“We are not sitting and waiting anymore,” Parham said after the announcement. “We are moving full speed ahead.”

Reading a letter from City Attorney Anthony Williams to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which the city is looking to work with on the demolition, Parham said C.A. Harrison Cos. — led by principal Chris Harrison — has “refused or otherwise ignored the city’s notices of violation and orders to secure the property,” as well as avoided service of criminal summonses related to the violations.

Petersburg Mayor Samuel Parham addresses reporters alongside Councilmembers Charlie Cuthbert, left, Annette Smith-Lee and Darrin Hill.

An inspection of the building in January found more than 140 violations, resulting in multiple criminal summonses and tens of thousands of dollars in civil penalties. The city hired consultants to conduct that inspection after receiving permission from Harrison to access the property, where vandalism and evidence of squatters had increased.

Beyond that permission, Parham said communication with Harrison has been nonexistent in recent months, leading the City Council earlier this month to adopt an ordinance pursuing demolition options.

“What we’ve been hearing from Mr. Harrison is nothing at all,” Parham said after the announcement. “We have reached out numerous times before, and as we see, the building is still in a deplorable state. We want to make sure that he gets moving on this and not give us a lot of lip service on what he’s going to do in the future. This has been going on for way too long.”

Attempts to reach Harrison for comment were unsuccessful. Calls to his mobile phone Tuesday and Wednesday were not returned.

Last summer, Harrison told BizSense that he was working with Petersburg’s economic development department on an announcement about the project. However, that announcement never took place.

He said at the time that he was considering different concepts for the project in light of the pandemic and maintained that the project would still be going forward.

Initial plans called for a hotel-anchored mixed-use development with apartments, retail and office space. Interior demolition and asbestos remediation were conducted in recent years, but work had noticeably stopped as Harrison faced several lawsuits from contractors and architects.

Developer Chris Harrison at the 2015 redevelopment announcement. (BizSense file)

Parham said Wednesday that the city has received interest in the property from other developers but has been unable to act.

“We’ve had numerous inquiries in the property, but Mr. Harrison has been sitting on the property and hasn’t entertained any offers from any other developers,” Parham said.

Since the building inspection in January, the city has been in talks with state Sen. Joe Morrissey, whose district includes Petersburg, and Del. Lashrecse Aird on how the financially challenged city could proceed with — and pay for — demolishing the nine-story, 125,000-square-foot structure, which was built in 1973 and once housed a Ramada Inn before the city purchased it in a tax sale in 2014.

One option, according to the city, could involve DEQ waiving fines imposed on Meridian Waste Acquisitions, a local waste contractor that has offered to perform the demolition. The work, which would be performed pro bono, would offset the fines imposed against it in a case related to the Tri-Cities Landfill in Petersburg.

Wednesday’s announcement was largely an overture to DEQ to consider that scenario. Joining Parham in the announcement were Vice Mayor Annette Smith-Lee and Councilmembers Charlie Cuthbert and Darrin Hill.

Workers and trucks were visible Wednesday at the Model Tobacco site.

Model Tobacco work underway

The announcement was made as work has gotten underway on another Harrison project: a redevelopment of the Model Tobacco Co. building and complex in South Richmond, which Harrison purchased last June for $8.57 million.

Fencing has been erected around the 15-acre complex at 1000 and 1100 Richmond Highway, and site work was underway on Wednesday, with workers active on the site and trucks pulling in and out of the property. A demolition permit specific to underground utilities was issued for the project in late February.

Harrison plans to transform the site and redevelop its main Art Deco-style building into 275 income-based apartments. Plans also call for a 47,000-square-foot entertainment venue with a beer garden and restaurant space. Harrison has said the project’s first phase is estimated to cost about $59 million, with total buildout lasting about 20 months.

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Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
19 days ago

Lip Service has been going around a lot in the City of Petersburg. The City has been threatening to do something about this monstrosity at the City’s entrance for years. Now, its come across an idea to give the demo contract to an entity that’s already in deep trouble with the federal government. That’ll guarantee results! There are several local companies who have a proven track record in demolition. Hire one of them. Get it done instead of making speeches.

Bert Hapablap
Bert Hapablap
18 days ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

I still wonder if this is lip service. The city of Petersburg is still basically broke so I’m not sure how they can afford to pay for a demo. Might just be another empty threat.

Deon Hamner
Deon Hamner
19 days ago

This building should’ve been tore down. It’s awful. I’m glad the city is moving on this. Get rid of it. Petersburg is trying to rebound and Old Towne is actually doing quite well.

Brett Hunnicutt
Brett Hunnicutt
19 days ago

May be a good spot for one of those casinos we’ve been hearing about.

Ed Christina
Ed Christina
19 days ago

Shout out to Petersburg or turning things around to a large extant. Trendng in the right direction.

Steven Cohen
Steven Cohen
16 days ago

Want to be developer, that dude has no money or he would not be stalling this long. City should tare it down and take possession of property. Not even the courtesy to respond.

Ed Christina
Ed Christina
15 days ago
Reply to  Steven Cohen

If he was broke he would not be working on a newly purchased building in South Richmond?