The old, unoccupied Greater Richmond Transit Co. headquarters and bus sheds on West Cary Street is a jewel for developers. Built in the early 20th century, it has history, cultural significance and a prime location — and that's why City Hall wants it.
“It's clearly an attractive parcel of land” in the center of the city, says Tammy Hawley, press secretary for Mayor Dwight C. Jones. “That was the motivating force behind getting some kind of control of the destiny of the site.”
“Those are some very old buildings which qualify for historic tax credits and so you can bet there's a lot of salivating going on,” says City Councilman Marty Jewell of the interest in the site in his district. The empty car barns and offices are not being considered for public housing, Jewell says, although some more affordable options have support.
A proposed ordinance by Jones, introduced to City Council on July 12, would authorize the city's chief administrative officer, Byron Marshall, to buy the property from the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority for $2.1 million and redevelop it. GRTC Transit System vacated the spot for a new headquarters on East Belt Boulevard this year.
The old shed property is assessed at $3.097 million, according to city records, but the city would acquire it for $5.4 million — meaning City Council likely would have to approve more funding for the agreement down the line.
After months of legislative tweaking, the ordinance was continued last week to council's Nov. 22 meeting.
The mayor's ultimate goal is to create “a balanced, mixed-use development” that includes “an affordable housing component.” According to city documents, such development “is consistent with the master plan, the desires of the surrounding community and the mayor's goals for economic development and community revitalization.”
Funds provided by the city would pay for a market feasibility study and public forum process, according to documents accompanying the ordinance, which also note that GRTC is conducting an environmental assessment.
The property also is subject to review by the state Department of Historic Resources, which would conduct architectural and archeological assessments that “could dictate and restrict the density of development due to preservation issues” and hold up a sale. GRTC estimates that those studies won't conclude before July 2012.
In an e-mailed statement to Style Weekly, Anthony Scott, chief executive of the housing authority, writes: “This effort is similar to our purchase of the Miller and Rhoads building for what is now a Hilton Garden Inn and the Thalhimer building for the creation of CenterStage — two unique City developments that are injecting vitality into our community.”