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.
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.
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.
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.