On the heels of lining up a development team for Richmond’s Diamond District project, city administrators are getting ready to launch a similar process for part of the City Center area that includes the Richmond Coliseum.
Richmond’s Economic Development Authority is preparing a joint solicitation that it plans to issue with the Greater Richmond Convention Center Authority to gauge development interest in a 9-acre assemblage that includes the shuttered arena and the site of a long-sought convention center hotel.
The request for interest (RFI), planned to go out this fall, also would include the neighboring Blues Armory building and adjoining properties that once made up the old Sixth Street Marketplace. Those properties are being included following a recent resolution by the Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority to transfer their ownership to the EDA, as the city did in May with the Coliseum.
With the RRHA properties in hand and the GRCCA involved, the EDA is packaging the properties as one whole economic development site, as opposed to issuing separate RFIs for different city-owned parcels that make up the bulk of the 26-acre City Center area. Adding the RRHA properties increases the site that the city is working with from 4 acres to 9 acres, Economic Development Director Leonard Sledge said.
Sledge said the approach provides a greater economic development opportunity to prospective developers that could vie for the site.
“We think we have a great opportunity to move forward with implementing the vision that’s in the City Center small area plan,” Sledge said, referring to the City Center Innovation District Small Area Plan that was adopted in January as an amendment to the Richmond 300 master plan.
With the assemblage, he added, “We now have a much larger, critical mass that can start to anchor redevelopment on those underutilized, publicly owned parcels.”
Involving the GRCCA adds a regional touch to marketing the site, which is made up of some of the properties previously pitched for Richmond’s unsuccessful Navy Hill plan. Where the city was driving that effort on its own, the joint solicitation with the GRCCA brings in the neighboring counties of Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico, whose chief administrators are among the authority’s membership.
Sledge said the authority’s long-held goal of establishing a convention center hotel warrants its involvement in the City Center solicitation. Tourism officials have long said such a hotel is needed on top of existing lodging options for the convention center to reach its full potential.
“Even predating the small area plan, for years there has been talk about the need for additional hotel keys – a convention or headquarters hotel, per se – and we see collaborating with the Greater Richmond Convention Center Authority as a great way of accomplishing that goal,” Sledge said.
Issuing the RFI jointly, he added, would help “assure that the needs of the city are met in terms of redevelopment for this parcel, but also to help drive more business to our convention center.”
The authority’s side is being led by a hotel taskforce made up of deputy administrators from the represented localities, along with Richmond Region Tourism’s Jack Berry, Venture Richmond’s Lisa Sims, Sledge, and city planner Maritza Pechin, who’s serving as project manager on the Diamond District project. Sledge said Henrico plays the lead role on behalf of the authority.
In an update to the EDA last month, Sledge said the combined site approach is ideal because each of the individual parcels involved are too large for just a convention center hotel or a mixed-use building. He said combining them to create a larger site allows for a larger, more cohesive development.
“We have a mass of real estate with this 9-plus acres to cause a redevelopment project to get what we desire and want,” Sledge told the board. “We think that we will have robust interest based on conversations that we’re having now, teasing the opportunity with prospective developers as we’re talking about the small area plan and other projects in the city. We expect it will be a very solid outcome.”
Sledge said the solicitation would be similar to the RFI issued for the Diamond District, with development teams asked to show their experience with past projects, particularly hotels, as well as community benefits and approaches to the site.
He told the board that the development would likely involve a public-private partnership, as well as some form of tax-increment financing, or TIF, which local governments can use to help pay for a project using tax revenues generated over time.
Sledge said they’re aiming to issue the solicitation early this fall, following a related area-wide rezoning of the 20-block area that makes up City Center. That rezoning, which was presented in April, is scheduled to go to the City Council for a final vote at its Sept. 26 meeting.
Once the solicitation is finalized, Sledge said it will be up to the EDA board to provide final approval before it goes out.
Meanwhile, another portion of the former Navy Hill site is getting prepped for redevelopment.
Capital City Partners, made up of the development team behind Navy Hill, is readying the site of the former Public Safety Building for a scaled-down version of the three-building complex it initially proposed in 2020. The revised development plan remains under city review.
• BizSense reporter Mike Platania contributed to this report.