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Best historic rehabilitation

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The Madison Office Building, 345 Granby St., Norfolk

345 Granby LLC, Eric Menden and George Hranowskyj

FCM Co., Bill Freed

MMM Design Groups

Doug Aronson, S. L. Nusbaum Realty Co.

It’s not every day that a developer finds a secret passageway to what had been a speakeasy in the basement of an old building.  That was just one of the surprises for Eric Menden during the rehabilitation of The Madison Office Building on Granby Street in Norfolk. “We found some old liquor bottles down there, girly magazines, poker chips. I found a roulette wheel, and we restored it,” says Menden. 

Giving new life to old buildings is a passion for Menden, whose real estate portfolio of 40 buildings primarily includes properties more than 100 years old.  So the 81,932-square-foot Madison fits right in.  It was built in 1906 as an eight-story hotel in anticipation of the 300th anniversary of Jamestown.  A number of famous people, including Mark Twain, reportedly slept there, Menden says.  Through the years, the hotel changed names and hands several times. By the time Menden and his partner bought it in 2005, they had condominiums in mind.

Then the residential market tanked, and they were forced to change course, going with a mix-used project.  Today, there’s ground-floor retail with a bookstore and an antique and gift shop.  The Madison offers 60,000 square feet of office space, with about 25 percent of that space leased since the building opened in 2010, says broker Doug Aronson.  Tenants, including a psychiatrist, a financial planning company and an advertising agency, enjoy views of the Elizabeth River through 12-foot arched windows.

Aronson calls the four-year, $23 million renovation of The Madison one of the most beautiful projects he has represented.  The contractor restored decorative ironwork and scrolling on the building’s exterior canopy. “The guard rails, the lions — the craftsmanship is extraordinary. You just don’t see that in today’s modern buildings,” notes Aronson. 

Contractor Bill Freed also restored the hotel’s original terrazzo lobby floor and rehung another treasure unearthed during construction: a 10-foot mural of explorer Captain John Smith.  In terms of construction, Freed says the greatest challenge was “putting a penthouse on the old roof.  We had to get a crane out there to lift steel and materials, and we had to do it early in the morning, before the adjacent parking lot had cars in it,” he recalls. Since the building’s residential plan already had been approved by the city and financing was based on 81,000 square feet of rentable space, Freed says the owners went ahead with the ninth-floor penthouse units, which comprise a total of 4,000 square feet.

While there are no penthouse takers yet, the restored building helps preserve the character of downtown Norfolk’s Granby Street. Plus, the judges were impressed that the owners didn’t give up on the project when forced to switch plans to keep the project viable. 

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