Investor pads Petersburg portfolio with $3M building buy

Gagan Marwaha of Marwaha Investments purchased the seven-story former bank building at 30 Franklin St. in a deal that closed July 15. (Jonathan Spiers photo)

One of the taller buildings in Petersburg is in the hands of a new owner who’s been on an acquisition streak in the city of late.

Gagan Marwaha of Marwaha Investments purchased the seven-story former bank building at 30 Franklin St. in a deal that closed July 15.

Gagan Marwaha

Marwaha, who bought the mixed-use building through an LLC, said the deal totaled $3.2 million. Petersburg’s online property records did not reflect the transaction this week.

The seller was 30 Franklin LLC, an entity owned by developer Tom Wilkinson. The LLC had owned the building since 2019, when it purchased it for $2.6 million, city records show. Wilkinson had previously owned the property under a different LLC.

Formerly a BB&T branch, the building was previously renovated in 2012. Wilkinson enlisted Monument Cos. for that project, which involved historic preservation tax credits. The city most recently assessed the half-acre property at $1.8 million.

Wilkinson and Marwaha have done business before. Late last year, Wilkinson sold the Cameron Lofts building at 325 Brown St. to Marwaha for $4.4 million.

Marwaha’s other Petersburg holdings include the Old Towne Flats apartments at 230 N. Sycamore St. and Plaza at Bank Street at 25 W. Bank St. Earlier this year, he paid $900,000 for 246 N. Sycamore St., a mixed-use building adjacent to Old Towne Flats.

Marwaha said the Cameron Lofts transaction led to him and Wilkinson doing another deal. In addition to the 30 Franklin building, Marwaha said Wilkinson also sold him a parking lot with an ATM lease across the street at 32 E. Washington St.

“He knows I’m a reliable buyer. I’m trying to grow my footprint in Petersburg, because I really believe that the caps (capitalization rates) are reasonable and the rent growth is phenomenal,” Marwaha said.

“The city itself is on a path of growth, so I’m trying to get in when the growth is immature,” he said. “Richmond is very overly mature, so I think I can get more value for my dollar in (Petersburg).”

Tom Wilkinson

Marwaha said he is putting close to $600,000 into improvements to the 30 Franklin building, which currently houses an events venue on the ground floor, two floors of commercial space above and 20 apartments on the upper four floors. His company, of which he is the sole proprietor, buys and invests in properties that it then manages through a sister company, Marwaha Real Estate.

Upgrades are planned for the apartments and events space, which has been operating as the 30 Franklin Event and Conference Center. Where the space had been hosting weddings and parties, Marwaha said he’s refashioning the space as a more traditional conference center for hosting city and business events.

He said the building’s theater room would be incorporated into the 6,500-square-foot ground-floor space, a move intended to return the room to a past use.

“Its real purpose was to serve as a visitor center for the public, and I really want to bring that back,” Marwaha said.

“I want that building to be a landmark for the city,” he added. “We already have a good mix of multiple tenants on the second floor, which I’m going to keep, and on the first floor I’m really going to enhance it (as) a business and conference center.”

Marwaha said the building was half-vacant when he bought it and he’s since fully leased up the apartments and office spaces.

He said the third floor is signed to a local government office that will be taking the full 5,100-square-foot space. He declined to identify the government office. Second-floor tenants include Commonwealth Transport, nonprofit Family Lifeline and a human resources firm.

Upgrades to the apartments will be made as unit leases turn over. Planned enhancements to the one-, two- and three-bedroom units include new flooring, countertops and other upgrades that Marwaha said would bring them up to market rates.

“The goal is to get to the market rent,” he said, describing the building’s leases as mostly under-market. The apartments range in size from 600 to 1,200 square feet. Common areas also will be renovated, Marwaha said.

The renovation will also rehab a clubhouse on the seventh floor. Marwaha said a rooftop amenity isn’t possible due to antennas on the roof that are leased by the city. He said those leases would continue.

Interior renovations are already underway, and Marwaha anticipates that work to be finished in 60 to 90 days. Exterior upgrades also are planned, with work scheduled to start in November.

Concrete contractor Richmond Primoid is doing the exterior work, which Marwaha said would preserve the façade and repair water leaks. He described the exterior work as the main expense of the project, which was financed through Chesapeake Bank.

“We’re going to spend a lot of money on the curb appeal, just to make it look good,” he said. “I want businesses to host events and conferences there.”

While Petersburg has been a focal point for Marwaha, his portfolio includes single-family and multifamily residential, commercial and mixed-use buildings, and commercially zoned land across metro Richmond and in Williamsburg.

A VCU grad with an MBA in finance, Marwaha, 38, launched Marwaha Investments in 2015 after several years as a power trader and fuels trading analyst for Dominion Energy. He also spent several years as a fuel supply and logistics manager for Sunoco.

Born in India, Marwaha moved to Richmond to attend VCU in 2006. He said he learned the real estate business from Jay Epstein, a Williamsburg-based builder and developer whose Health-E-Community Enterprises of Virginia was behind the solar-powered Villas at Rocketts Landing subdivision in Fulton and built the Jefferson Green condos beside Jefferson Park.

Marwaha said he was the first homebuyer at the Villas at Rocketts Landing, where he has since picked up additional properties.

“I just liked real estate, and Jay Epstein really taught me the business,” Marwaha said. “I didn’t plan to be a businessman. It just came my way. I liked it and I kept on going.”

In addition to a local office at 7520 Brook Road, Marwaha Investments also has offices in Petersburg and Williamsburg. The Brook Road office is one of several adjoining parcels that Marwaha has compiled over the years along that stretch, where he said a long-term goal is a multi-tenant office and retail development that Marwaha Investments would anchor.

He said he remains on the lookout for investment opportunities throughout Central Virginia.

“I’m looking basically everywhere. I have very aggressive growth plans,” he said. “We go into troubled properties, we fix them up, and we bring them to the market value. That’s the basic strategy.”

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Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
13 days ago

At Harrison&Bates (RIP), we would say that there are no bad properties, just bad owners. I wish him God Speed in Petersburg. Thant city needs a good healthy dose of good luck and new cash infusion. And no more tornados on Main Street!

Dan Kern
Dan Kern
13 days ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

Amen! Tons of opportunity in the ‘Burg.

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
13 days ago

Fun Fact: That building has a slightly tapering ziggarat quality to it because it was a Knights of Pythias building. If you look up high, you can see the words KOP up there…