Roughly a year since the project received county zoning approval, the next significant steps to making the massive mixed-use, arena-anchored GreenCity development a reality were taken Thursday by Henrico’s Economic Development Authority.
The EDA’s board of directors approved three resolutions that set the stage for the initial phase of the $2.3 billion project to get underway in 2023. The project’s developers have said they expect to break ground early next year.
The resolutions amended a purchase agreement that the two parties entered into in June of last year, allowing the developers, Green City Partners, to purchase the 93-acre former Best Products site in three installments over a two-year period.
The agreed-upon purchase price of $6.2 million – the amount the county paid for the property in 2011 – remains unchanged.
The board also finalized a development agreement that details the project’s components and schedule, and formally requested that county supervisors establish a community development authority for the project site. The CDA would generate tax revenue to pay for infrastructure improvements and a portion of the arena as the development progresses.
The supervisors are scheduled to consider approving the development agreement at their Dec. 13 meeting. A public hearing on the CDA would be held in January, and the Best Products site transaction is scheduled to close before March.
The resolutions are the first procedural advances for GreenCity since supervisors approved a rezoning and provisional-use permit for the project last fall.
Announced in December 2020, GreenCity is ultimately planned to consist of a 17,000-seat arena, 2.2 million square feet of office space, 280,000 square feet of retail, two 300-room hotels, green space, and up to 2,400 residential units. The so-called “ecodistrict” village would fill 200 acres along the east side of Interstate 95 between Parham Road and Interstate 295.
The rest of the land to the north consists of Scott Farm, which would be purchased separately by the developer from Bill Goodwin’s Riverstone Properties. Riverstone bought that land in 2015 for more than $6.4 million.
CDA would be county’s fourth
Presenters Thursday described the CDA request as the most significant of the board’s actions. The CDA would initially cover the Best Products site and could be expanded to include additional land later. It would consist of a five-member board to be appointed by the supervisors and consist of county residents.
Henrico has used CDAs for three other developments in the county: Short Pump Town Center, White Oak Village and Reynolds Crossing. Thirty-year bonds used to finance GreenCity would be paid off with tax revenue from the development’s initial phases, as well as from revenues generated from the arena.
The non-recourse bonds, to be issued by the CDA, are estimated to total $295 million.
Proceeds from the sale of the CDA bonds would be leveraged with private equity obtained by the developers to finance the $250 million arena that would effectively replace the shuttered Richmond Coliseum. That 50-year-old venue is to be demolished as part of Richmond’s planned City Center redevelopment project.
Initial development for GreenCity also would include repurposing the 300,000-square-foot former Best Products headquarters as a so-called “living building,” meaning it would generate more energy than it would use, among other environmental sustainability features.
The Best Products building rehab is slated for completion in 2024, while the arena, the first of two planned hotels and other initial development are targeted for completion in 2025. Full buildout of the entire GreenCity project is anticipated in 2033.
The CDA scenario is different than Richmond’s former Navy Hill proposal, which hinged on taxpayer support through a proposed tax-increment financing district. That plan, which a majority of the Richmond City Council rejected in 2020, was centered on a new arena to replace the Coliseum.
The development team principals behind GreenCity — Michael Hallmark of Future Cities and Susan Eastridge of Concord Eastridge — also worked on Navy Hill.
First closing payment: $500k vs. $5M
The purchase agreement amendment allows Green City Partners to pay for the Best Products site in three installments: $500,000 on Feb. 28, 2023; $500,000 one year after that; and the remaining balance ($5.22 million) the year after that. Should the developer default, the EDA can repurchase undeveloped parts of property at the same price per acre and terminate the agreement.
The previous agreement had called for a payment of $5 million on April 12 and $1.2 million on Oct. 12 of next year, with a possible extension for an additional year. County staff said Thursday the change is meant to firm up the closing date and show good faith for the project as it proceeds through the governmental process.
County supervisors transferred the Best Products site’s ownership to the EDA early last year. The initial purchase agreement was signed that June, and rezoning and permit approvals were secured that October, officially laying the groundwork for the project.
The EDA would maintain a 160-by-160-foot portion of the site, adjacent to I-95 just north of Parham, for a communications tower that would include an access easement. The amended agreement also gives the county 60 days after closing to remove furniture, portable generators and other personal property from the building.
Development agreement finalized
The development agreement – which is between the EDA, Green City Partners and the county – requires development in conformance with the project’s master plan and design pattern book, with some wiggle room allowed for adjustments as needed. The 134-page document, along with other project details, can be viewed on the project website, GreenCityVA.com.
Among the development agreement’s requirements are that at least 30 percent of the project involve small, women-owned and minority-owned businesses and minority business enterprises. Green City Partners would have naming rights to the arena and the rest of the development.
The agreement also requires the developers to assign a sustainability director to ensure that project components meet LEED certifications and other sustainability goals.
Hallmark has submitted the Best Products project for the Living Building Challenge, a recognition program under the Seattle-based International Living Future Institute. If successful, the project would be the largest commercial “living building” in the world, he has said.
Hallmark said there are 167 Living Building Challenge buildings worldwide, including one in Virginia: the Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach.
Architecture firm ZGF is leading the design for the Best Products building out of its D.C. office. Mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering work is being handled by PAE, out of Portland, Oregon, and by CMTA’s Richmond office. D.C.-based Silman is the structural engineer.
Future Cities is the project planner. A contractor has not been announced.
Pedestrian bridge planned
Access to the GreenCity site would be provided via five entrances off a planned extension of Magellan Parkway, which would bisect the site and run across I-95 via a new bridge.
The new bridge would replace the existing Scott Road bridge, which Green City Partners is planning to convert to a pedestrian bridge in coordination with the Virginia Department of Transportation.
The proposed mass-timber replacement bridge would be the first glue-laminate bridge construction across an interstate the continental U.S., according to Future Cities. It would connect with the Fall Line Trail that’s planned about a mile to the west, and the design would heighten the 1962-era bridge that’s become susceptible to vehicle strikes.
Hallmark and Eastridge also are redeveloping Richmond’s Public Safety Building site at 500 N. 10th St. The planned three-building complex with a seven-level tower would fill a portion of the area that was proposed for Navy Hill.
Hallmark’s Future Cities also is planning to rehab an old power substation in Carver into a mixed-use neighborhood hub. A special-use permit for that project was submitted in June and remains under review.
Note: This story has been updated with firms involved in the Best Products building project.