Industries Commercial Real Estate

Another new apartment/condo project coming to Manchester

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Print this page By Paula C. Squires
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As if to drive home the point that Manchester is Richmond’s hot spot for new apartments, developer Robin Miller announced Tuesday yet another project: a $27 million, 140-unit project on Semmes Avenue that he plans to convert later to condominiums.

Miller described his new project during a panel discussion on Manchester sponsored by the Greater Richmond Association for Commercial Real Estate.  More than 100 people came to hear an overview on why this historically blue-collar industrial area across the James River from downtown has taken off.

Miller, a longtime developer in the area, said proximity to downtown and the James River, which offers outdoor activities such as kayaking, is a big draw for young professionals. “These people have a job and a car. They’re jogging, walking their dog, going to the river,” he said.

His new project, 800 Semmes, will be built between Ninth and Commerce Streets. Miller & Associates will break ground next month, and the units should be ready by summer 2015.

“I believe that the condo market will be coming back soon,” Miller said.
Besides young working professionals, whom Miller thinks will want to move up from renting, he expects the project to attract middle-age working professionals and empty nesters.

The 12-story building will offer two stories for parking, views of the James River, a pool and fire pit.  There will be six penthouses at the top, Miller said.

Currently going up is 1200 Semmes, at 1200 Semmes Ave., a 129-unit apartment project expected to open in May.  It will include 111 one-bedroom units, 12 two-bedroom units, and six studios, along with a rooftop deck and a dog walk on the roof. “If you come home at 1 a.m. in the morning, and you want to take your dog on a walk, you don’t have to go outside," Miller said.

Since 2004, Miller's firm has developed more than 375 homes, apartments and condos in Manchester. About 550 residents moved into those projects, said Miller, and he’s one of them. Miller lives in the top floor of Old Manchester Lofts, an 80-unit condominium at 815 Porter Street that occupies the former Virginia Bakery Building , constructed in the 19th century.

According to Sam McDonald of Property Results LLC, another early developer in Manchester, the area has 1,164 new multifamily units underway, not including the project Miller announced. During the past 10 years, about 1,500 units have been built, mostly through the rehabilitation of old buildings.

What made development possible was use of tax abatements from the city and state and federal historic tax credits, McDonald said. “We want to see tax abatement continued,” he said.

Along with tax abatement, a newly formed group — the  multifamily unit of the Homebuilders Association of Richmond —is lobbying the city to provide incentives for new construction, a better permitting process and improved infrastructure.

“We’d like the city to do its part,” McDonald said. “Half of the neighborhoods south of Hull Street don’t have sidewalks or curbs. The streets go into the dirt. They need streetscaping, lights and trees.”

On the plus side, Tom Papa of Fountainhead Development, pointed out that Manchester does offer already-in-place major infrastructure. “If you build something in the suburbs, you have to get approval and put in all the infrastructure,” he said. In addition, the area offers these advantages to developers: high-density growth, mixed-use development, views of the James River and a safe environment.

Another panelist, Drew Wiltshire of Thalhimer Realty Partners, brought the audience up to speed on the Reynolds South Plant, a key development piece for Manchester. The company plans to start work next month rehabbing several warehouses into 250 apartment units, during the first phase of construction on the 18-acre site. Later on, Thalhimer plans to add a 13-story office tower of 250,000-square feet and 60,000 feet of retail space.

The site at Seventh and Hull Streets is the former location of Reynolds Packaging Group’s foil manufacturing plant. It consists of more than seven city blocks with historic buildings that can be converted to multi-family, retail and office.

“We’re hoping to lure retail with more parking than one would expect in an urban setting,” said Wiltshire. Thalhimer would like to see a grocery store tenant in 35,000 square feet, along with a pharmacy and is receiving queries from several companies, Wiltshire added.

He said the apartments should be ready by April or May of 2015.

Asked what impact a new baseball stadium project in Shockoe Bottom, proposed by Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones, might have on development in Manchester, several of the developers gave the mayor’s project a thumbs up.

Miller, Papa and McDonald said the ballpark  would help draw people downtown and give downtown residents another amenity.  “A ballpark downtown would be great for the city and for Manchester, too,” Miller said.


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