Another step has been taken toward providing contiguous riverfront access from downtown all the way down to Rocketts Landing.
Last week the James River Association acquired a 0.85-acre parcel of land at 2825 Dock St. for $832,000, where it’s planning to build a $7 million environmental education center.
JRA President Bill Street said the acquisition is a step toward getting work on the facility underway.
“We’ve been looking for a place for an educational river center for over five years. We’re thrilled to finally have this site secured,” Street said. “It’s such a wonderful site because it provides immediate access to the James.”
The land was part of a surrounding 5-acre assemblage purchased last year for $4.9 million by The Conservation Fund, a Northern Virginia-based nonprofit.
The Conservation Fund remains the owner of the rest of the 4.3 acres at 3011-3021 Dock St. It said last year it plans to work with the JRA and Capital Region Land Conservancy to place the land under a conservation easement and eventually gift it to the city to become part of the James River Park System.
The easement will preclude any of the land from being developed, with the exception of JRA’s two-story facility, which it’ll use to run its youth education programs and school field trips that often include getting out on the river.
“School trips are under such tight timeframes that it’s important to have minimal transportation times,” Street said.
The architect for the education center is 3North, and Timmons Group is its engineer. Street said they plan to bid the project out to general contractors soon, with hopes to break ground by the end of 2022.
The nonprofits haven’t been immune to rising construction costs that are increasingly common in Richmond and beyond. Street said they initially budgeted about $5 million for the education center, but that cost has gone up.
“With the cost of construction and some additional aspects of the project we want to do, (the budget) has increased to $7 million,” Street said. “That includes $1 million in reserves and endowment so we can maintain and run the center for years to come.”
Street added that they’ve already fundraised $5.5 million of the $7 million needed, and that they recently received a $2 million challenge grant from The Cabell Foundation that will help fund the project.
In addition to the education center and river access, the Virginia Capital Trail will also use the land as a cut-through, allowing it to reroute off of Dock Street. Street said a separate pedestrian footpath is also planned to be installed on the site.
Once the fencing comes down and work is done, Street said the land will add a significant amount of river access in the city.
“It’s amazing. People drive by it or ride by it on the Capital Trail. But because it’s a vacant, fenced field right now no one pays much attention to it. But it’s such a critical piece,” Street said. “It’s the only gap in public access along the river from Rocketts Landing all the way up to Tredegar. So to have that now secured and eventually going into public access will be fantastic.”