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Developer Is First to "Jump the River"

The premise sounds identical to many developments in Richmond in the past few years, but McDonald's plan "represents the first time that folks are jumping the river," says John Woodward, director of the city's Department of Economic Development.

The area south of the James is prime for development for two reasons, Woodward says. "The Shockoe Bottom area, which heretofore has been where the burgeoning growth is, is beginning to get tapped out," he says.

Also, Woodward says, rents in the Tobacco Row area are among the highest in the city. Residents pay about $1.10 to $1.35 per square foot in monthly rent; the city average is closer to 75 cents. Rents in the Sani-Tech building would run about 85 cents per square foot, McDonald estimates.

City Council rezoned 201 Hull St. at its last meeting. The Hull Street commercial corridor has long needed a boost, and Woodward says the Sani-Tech project, if it succeeds, could become the northern anchor for renewal efforts.

The building's a natural, McDonald says, with its large windows, lofty interiors and "probably the best views of any building" in the area of the Richmond skyline.

McDonald's instincts have been right before. Two years ago, he won a Golden Hammer preservation award from the Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods for his renovation of Ender's Tobacco Warehouse at 20 N. 20th St. About 60 people have already called about the Hull Street apartments, he says.

But some prospective neighbors are looking skeptically at the new project. "I just think it's too soon," says Dee Russell. She's the human resource coordinator for Richmond Paperboard, which operates offices and a warehouse across the street from the Sani-Tech building.

Russell doesn't oppose McDonald's plan, she says, but she doubts Richmond is ready for apartments in such a busy manufacturing district: "Too industrial. Too many trucks. Too much noise," she says, adding, "If that building were across the river, I think it would do very well."

McDonald, however, thinks the site is right. "We'll be the first," he says, "but ultimately there'll be some other people over there doing similar projects." — m.s.s.

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