The former school gymnasium that has been a home for Richmond’s burgeoning dance community for the past 12 years is up for sale with dancers informed they should plan to lose use of the building by July 31st.
Dr. Robert “Pops” Petres, owner of the historic property at West 15th and Bainbridge Streets notable for its beautiful windows and abundant fly space, says the building will be listed for sale this week. The 2022 assessment of the property lists its value as $1,672,000.
The potential sale comes on the heels of Jess Burgess, long-time artistic and executive director of Dogtown Dance Theatre, the nonprofit that manages the building, accepting a job as CEO of the Greenville Center for Creative Arts in South Carolina. She starts her new position on May 2nd.
With Burgess’s departure, the RVA Dance Collective has disbanded. The collective, founded by Burgess with Danica Kalemdaroglu more than 15 years ago, had been resident at Dogtown Dance since 2011.
The long-term status of Dogtown Dance will depend on whether the new owners of the building will continue to manage it as a performing arts space. “The mission of Dogtown Dance is to be a home, quite literally, for independent performing artists,” says Burgess. “Without the building, a reevaluation and a restructure of the organization would need to happen if it is going to exist in some way.”
“It was a perfect storm,” Petres says about the impetus for selling the property. “Jess said she was leaving and that came after two years of no one coming through the door” due to the pandemic, he explains. “I’m 83 years old; I can’t do it anymore.”
Petres first purchased and renovated the building together with his son, Rob Petres, a choreographer and the artistic director of Ground Zero Dance Company. The younger Petres had been awarded a Virginia Commission for the Arts fellowship in 2004 to develop a new dance piece but could find nowhere in Richmond to perform it. Dr. Petres, an obstetrician, worked occasionally at a location across from the abandoned gymnasium in the now-popular Manchester neighborhood.
“I kept looking at that building and wondering,” he says. “When I was finally able to get inside to look around, I thought, ‘we gotta have it.’ It was built in 1939, the same year I was born, so it’s easy for me to remember how old it is,” he says.
Petres did not disclose specifics but said that preliminary discussions have included potential buyers who may be willing to operate the building as a performing arts space. “People have been after us about the building for years because of what’s happened all around us,” he explains. “It’s an opportune time: There’s been more activity in this building over the past six weeks then there’s been in the last two years.”
Even as they go their separate ways, a wealth of reciprocal respect remains between Burgess and Petres.
“Dogtown was my heart and soul for more than a decade and I would love to see it serve the community in some way,” Burgess says. “But COVID taught all of us that there is a breaking point where you have to focus on yourself and take care of yourself. I’m at a place in my career where I’d like to be able to focus on sustainability and growth, not just on survival.”
“I knew that the building was a financial burden on [Petres] and his family for years,” says Burgess. Even at 83, Petres remains intimately involved in building operations. Earlier this year, the elevator sump pump gave out. “Pops and his son were down in the elevator pit with buckets, scooping out this nasty water,” she says.
“I’m really proud of what we did with this building,” Petres says. “When we started, the goal was to elevate the profile of the arts, particularly of dance. If I look at it over the long haul, we did it.”