Calhoun Center ownership change to kickstart ‘anchor’ project for Jackson Ward Community Plan

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A layout of the upgrades planned for Calhoun Center’s outdoor rec area. (Images courtesy Timmons Group)

Six months since a new development plan for Jackson Ward was finalized, city officials have set a catalyst of the revitalization effort into motion.

City Council adopted an ordinance last month allowing for the transfer of ownership of the Calhoun Family Investment Center, a community center in Jackson Ward’s Gilpin Court, from the Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority to the City of Richmond. 

The transfer, which is pending approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and should occur by September, will help kickstart a major overhaul of the Calhoun Center.

RRHA and the city plan to refurbish the center’s existing offices and recreation areas, which include reviving a long-shuttered indoor pool. Plans also include creating a website and digital signage for the center to advertise programming.

The city-owned outdoor recreation area adjacent to the center also will be transformed with construction of a splash pad and shade structures, which were requested by Gilpin Court residents.

Tamara Jenkins, spokesperson for the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities, said the Calhoun Center renovation should be completed by 2026. She said a developer has not been selected and the city will put the project out to bid when the transfer of ownership is complete. Timmons Group is the site engineer. 

Calhoun Center’s transformation also will be an anchor for the overall Jackson Ward Community Plan, a development guide to revitalize the neighborhood that also includes plans to redevelop Gilpin Court, the state’s oldest public housing development. 

The plan aims to boost business and the arts in the neighborhood, provide inclusive housing and improve transportation, all of which had been historically marred by the bisecting of the area by Interstate 64-95. 

RRHA developed the Jackson Ward Community Plan with input from Jackson Ward and Gilpin Court residents, and will execute the plan with numerous partners, including the city. 

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The planned splash pad is seen in the background.

According to the plan, one of the most desired neighborhood improvements is the refurbishment of the Calhoun Center’s pool, which has been empty since 2013. The document also lists plans for a splash pad at Calhoun Park that was set to open in June. Jenkins said the splash pad should be installed by the end of the summer. 

“Additional improvements included in the Calhoun Master Plan include improved playground, trails, community garden, ball field, and parking,” Jenkins said in an email. “These improvements will be made in future years, as funding allows.”

The plan states that the city will use $8 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds it received to pay for the center’s renovations.  

RRHA CEO Steven Nesmith said the organization will now apply for a $500,000 implementation grant from HUD by the end of the year or early 2025. He said he plans to leverage relationships in HUD that he formed while he was assistant secretary of the department. 

RRHA received a $450,000 planning grant from HUD for the project in November 2021.

While the city will own the Calhoun Center, Nesmith said RRHA will maintain its relationship and continue to operate some of its programs there and provide new services as well.

Nesmith said the Calhoun Center will be a hub for Jackson Ward youth as the neighborhood redevelops. Potential improvements also include a healthcare resource center, a business incubator to support youth-led startups and a job training center.

Steven Nesmith with Flag Hi Res

Steven Nesmith

“Free job training, which leads to livable-wage jobs, is a way to give our youth some hope and opportunity,” Nesmith said. 

The organization will open resident client centers in the Calhoun Center, where residents would be able to get one-on-one support from case managers for needs such as traveling downtown.

RRHA provided office space for nonprofit organizations and meeting space for its resident councils that will continue to be used after the ownership transfer. RRHA’s STEM program, which is housed inside the Calhoun Center, will continue to operate under the center’s city ownership. Nesmith said 300 children living in public housing participated in the STEM program last year.

“It was so heartwarming,” Nesmith said of the STEM participation. “These are kids who are just hungry and beaming with excitement.”

Nesmith is closing in on his second year on the job, after serving as CEO of Capital Mortgage and Financial Services LLC for almost seven years. He is the first long-term leader of the RRHA after a two-year period of interim CEOs that followed the departure of former CEO Damon Duncan in 2020. Duncan served in that role for less than a year.

The interim CEO before Nesmith’s arrival, Sheila Hill-Christian, restructured the organization in 2022. Hill-Christian created two new roles – senior vice president and projects director, and senior vice president of affordable housing – and filled three previously vacant roles. 

With that restructuring complete, Nesmith said the Jackson Ward Community Plan continues to move ahead. 

Gilpin Court developer selected

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An earlier draft of the Jackson Ward Community Plan included a phasing strategy for transforming Gilpin Court into a mixed-housing, mixed-income community. (City documents)

Another centerpiece of the plan is the redevelopment of Gilpin Court, which RRHA and a developer will convert into new homes for rent and for ownership using income-based vouchers. 

The developer selected for the Gilpin Court renovation is New Orleans-based HRI Communities, which previously worked in Richmond on renovating the Miller & Rhoads building into a Hilton-brand hotel in 2009. HRI could not be reached for comment for this story. 

The RRHA board must approve the Gilpin Court redevelopment master development agreement before construction begins on new housing. Nesmith said he expects the board to vote on the agreement within the next two months. 

“We have to take it to the next stage,” Nesmith said. “We’ve been at this for a year now, having meetings, community events. Now that we have a developer, it’s real. It’s real now.”

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Will Teeples
Will Teeples
5 hours ago

This is great news. Calhoun Center has been long overdue for a facelift. Hoping a lot of thought and care goes into this, it’s an important public space.

Michael Paul Morgan-Dodson
Michael Paul Morgan-Dodson
47 seconds ago
Reply to  Will Teeples

It is??? You did read the City will oversee the project. The splash pad at 17th Street and enlarged fountains at Kanawha. Somehow the renderings and promises NEVER seem to mesh! The pool repair has been needed for years but look for the promised amenities to drop by 50%, the budget to triple, and the timeline to be off by 18 months or more.