Brock Saunders is accustomed to investing in growing companies through his venture capital firm, Summit Action Fund.
But now he’s dipping his toe in real estate development with an office project in the Libbie-Grove area.
Saunders is planning to build an 11,000-square-foot office building at 5605 Grove Ave.
The former home of Kim Faison Antiques sits on the site and would be razed to make way for the new three-story building.
Saunders, who lives in the Westhampton neighborhood, said he and his brother Paul began talking last year about finding office space for Summit Action Fund and Hutch Capital, a local hedge fund Paul manages.
“While (Paul and I) don’t work together, we talk a lot and I think are good sounding boards for one another. And we’ve always said, ‘How great would it be to be in the same office at some point?’” Saunders said.
“I put the idea in his head to do something in Westhampton. The problem is it’s hard to find space in the neighborhood. It’s super capacity constrained, and frankly, everything that comes to market is too expensive.”
Saunders and Faison struck an off-market deal in late December for the 2,700-square-foot building, which stands near the intersection of Grove and Granite avenues, and he purchased it for $1.26 million.
Faison began operating her antiques shop there in 1987 and has since moved the shop a few blocks north to 2111 Lake Ave., near Libbie Mill.
The nearly 50-year-old building was originally a house and Saunders said with its water leakage issues, the building’s not in any condition to rehab.
“I’m not an expert but I don’t think it’s in condition where you could even reuse it, certainly not for our use,” he said. “The idea of trying to keep that space and tear down walls and make it work was too heavy a lift, both cost-wise and it doesn’t make sense.”
In January, Saunders applied for a special-use permit to allow for office use on the residentially-zoned property.
Fultz & Singh Architects is designing the office building, which would reach three stories. Saunders said it would be set back from the street and its third floor would have an open roof deck facing Grove.
“COVID has changed the way that everybody works and I love the idea of having outdoor space on the roof,” Saunders said.
They’re hoping the rezoning request goes before the city’s Planning Commission sometime in the next few weeks before heading to the City Council in the coming months. The project’s cost hasn’t been determined, and Saunders said they don’t have a lender or general contractor lined up.
The project has received some pushback from locals in the Westhampton neighborhood, but Saunders said they’re continuing conversations with the neighborhood association, and that he believes the project fits in with the city’s recently-adopted Richmond 300 master plan.
“I think it’s important to think critically about new developments. Unlike anybody else that’d take on a project like this, we’re not doing it to maximize a rental income,” Saunders said.
“I live in (Westhampton). I love it and want to work in it. We think we are adding value to the neighborhood by taking down a building that’s past its prime.”
Once this project is completed, Saunders said that he’s not keen on continuing to delve into development.
“This will be one-and-done for me. I’ve learned a lot, but there are far more capable people to do this kind of stuff than me,” Saunders said, laughing. “There’s a real process to it.”