Richmond seeks developers for Coliseum property
City Center applications due Dec. 20
Two Richmond city authorities issued a request for interest Thursday to redevelop the area surrounding the Richmond Coliseum into a hotel-anchored mixed-use development, the City Center Innovation District. Owned by Richmond’s economic development authority, the 9.4-acre property includes the shuttered Coliseum and other structures that were part of the failed Navy Hill development proposal.
The Richmond Economic Development Authority and the Greater Richmond Convention Center Authority invited development teams to submit applications by Dec. 20 to be considered for phase one of the project. In-person visits to the property will take place Nov. 29, according to the project website.
The $1.5 billion Navy Hill project was killed by Richmond City Council in February 2020 after city residents strongly objected to the public-private plan driven by former Dominion Energy Inc. President and CEO Thomas F. Farrell II, who formed NH District Corp. with other Richmond business leaders to develop a 10-block area that included the Richmond Coliseum site. No other groups submitted plans after the 2017 call for proposals by Mayor Levar Stoney, a vocal proponent of the deal.
The new request, however, appears to be more in the mold of the city’s Diamond District redevelopment, which was part of the Richmond 300 master plan created with extensive citizen input. According to the city’s announcement, the City Center Innovation District Small Area Plan is also a “direct outcome” of the comprehensive plan. A 242-page RFI notes that the first phase of the project would include the following properties, which are occupied by currently unused buildings:
- Richmond Coliseum, 601 E. Leigh St., 7.36 acres
- Sixth Street Marketplace, 530-550 E. Marshall St., 0.624 acres
- Blues Armory, 411 N. 6th St., 0.487 acres
- Park space, 406-408 N. 7th St., 1 acre
The plan must include demolition of the Coliseum, which has been closed since 2019, and development of a hotel with at least 500 rooms and meeting space, according to the planning document. The City Center Innovation Small Area Plan suggests adding public green spaces on part of the Coliseum footprint, with a main plaza at the intersection of North 6th and East Clay streets that could “serve as a citywide convening space” for concerts, festivals and ice skating when weather permits. Smaller spaces could be used for outdoor dining, playgrounds or other uses, according to the small area plan, which was released in November 2021.
The Coliseum site presents an opportunity for a grocery store with “sit-down, fast-casual dining and … space for entertainment and local vendors,” according to a market analysis prepared by AECOM that was included in the RFI.
The Blues Armory building, a 1910-built brick castle-like structure that once housed the Richmond Light Infantry Blues, must be renovated in a “creative adaptive reuse,” and proposals also must include “a significant number” of residences at multiple price levels; retail space; parking areas; and Class-A office space for biotech and life sciences businesses, many of which are already located nearby in the Virginia Bio+Tech Park. Public transit, pedestrian walkways, bike paths and open spaces also are priorities, according to the RFI.
In another change from the Navy Hill project, which was also criticized for its early funding plan to create a special tax district, the developers of City Center’s first phase must instead use “financing approaches that minimize public investment and risk and maximize private investment,” the document says, although it doesn’t offer further specifics. The project must also generate new revenue sources for the EDA, GRCCA and the city, as well as creating a fund to support technical assistance and training for minority-owned businesses and funding postsecondary scholarships for financially disadvantaged Richmond Public Schools students.
“Now is the time for Richmond to reinvigorate this part of our downtown to be a more vibrant destination for innovation, residential life and tourism,” said Richmond City Council Vice President Ellen F. Robertson, who represents District 6, where the property is located, in a statement. “The collaboration between the Richmond EDA and GRCCA is the right approach to getting this redevelopment project done.” Robertson was among the council members who rejected Navy Hill in 2020.
“We are thrilled to start the redevelopment of our City Center and to align it with the vision of the City Center Innovation District Small Area Plan,” said Leonard Sledge, executive director of the Richmond EDA. “All of the pieces are in place to position the redevelopment of the Coliseum site into a mixed-use, hotel-anchored development. We look forward to seeing this initial phase of the City Center redevelopment become a lively innovation district that attracts both established and startup companies, adds mixed-income housing, creates green space, expands tourism and so much more, while also creating opportunities for as many Richmonders as possible.”
After the Dec. 20 deadline for RFI submissions, an evaluation panel made up of representatives from the city and the two authorities are set to release a shortlist of development teams in winter 2023. Those groups will be invited to respond to a request for offers that will be evaluated by the same panel. In spring or summer 2023, the panelists expect to select one or more development teams for the project, pending approval by the EDA and GRCCA boards and other public bodies as needed.