by Paula C. Squires
Developers are ready to move on the next phase of Rocketts Landing in Richmond — with the construction of a retail/office building— if they can lock in office tenants. Robert W. Hensley, vice president for The WVS Cos. LLC, said the company plans a five-story, 54,000-square foot Riverfront Building on the banks of the James River on what is now a sandy volleyball field.
WVS already has letters of intent from some restaurants that would like a riverfront location a mile from downtown Richmond’s central business district. But for the project to be viable, it needs office tenants for the top three floors. “We’ve got the plans. We just need the tenants, and we could pull the trigger,” Hensley told Virginia Business. Once signed leases and financing are in place, the building could be delivered in 16 to 18 months, he added.
An update on Rocketts Landing and on WVS’s other riverfront project, a 116-unit apartment project at the former Reynolds North Plant in the city’s Canal District, came during a meeting Wednesday sponsored by the Richmond chapter of Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW). About 70 people gathered at The Boathouse Restaurant at Rocketts Landing and took in the river and downtown skyline views that Hensley says makes Rocketts unique among the region’s mixed-use projects. Richard D. Souter, the company’s executive vice president, said during a presentation that The Boathouse has been successful during its first two years of operation, drawing about 100,000 people to Rocketts. The 50-acre project stretches for a mile along the James River and Route 5/Main Street on a site that used to be an industrial brownfield. Since the 2009 opening of The Boathouse, two other restaurants have opened: Conch Republic, adjacent to The Boathouse on the water, and M Bistro and Wine Bar, situated in the ground-floor retail section of Rockett’s village. Other village occupants include a consulting firm and The Mariner’s Club.
So far Rocketts consists of about 3.4 million square feet of development, including apartments, townhomes, retail, office, a marina and the restaurants. At full build out, Souter said the project will be 4 million to 5 million square feet, or about 20 city blocks. Of the 1 million square feet targeted for commercial use, about 750,000 square feet has currently been constructed.
To boost interest in the site, Souter said Rocketts has sponsored several riverfront events such as regattas and various races. The coming Virginia Capital Trail will be a future amenity, he added, because it will be serve as another draw for people to visit the James River for walks and bike rides.
Out the window for now are plans for condos. “Although we had grand plans to expand condos, the world we’re living in seems to dictate that that won’t be a reality,” Souter said.
Kit Tyler, vice chairman and director of office brokerage for Grubb & Ellis|Harrison & Bates in Richmond, said the section east of downtown near Rocketts Landing is attracting tenants. “I think the potential is there. It may be a little slow and rental rates will be a challenge.” He predicted that it would take 12-plus months to fill a new building and that likely tenants would include law firms and other professional services.
While WVS wants to move forward on the Riverfront Building, things are going slower for the proposed apartment complex planned for the old Reynolds factory site. Better signage, parking and other renovations need to occur before that project can get off the ground, Souter said.
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