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For Sale: $95 Million in Bonds

The demolition of Sixth Street Marketplace and other projects proposed for downtown will be funded by the sale of bonds.

The move is a "milestone," says John Woodward, the city's economic-development director.

"We're jubilant," says Ken Powell, vice president of public finance for Legg, Mason, Wood and Walker, the financial services firm that has underwritten the bonds and plans to sell them. "We've had very good reception," he says of potential investors.

Powell says it's too soon to say who they are. None of the bonds had been sold by press time.

The bonds are issued by the newly established Broad Street Community Development Authority. The authority, which is separate from the city, was created to help finance the costs of tearing down the 6th Street Marketplace, building parking decks and making infrastructure improvements downtown.

Sale of the bonds has been highly anticipated. They had also been delayed because of the projects' complexity and size. City officials had expected them to be issued and sold by the end of 2002.

But Powell says that selling the bonds at the beginning of the new year may be more desirable anyway because fewer "deals are out there in the marketplace" for investors to consider.

What's called a "preliminary limited offering memorandum" — similar to a stock prospectus — went out last week to the kinds of institutional investors likely to purchase the bonds. Woodward says typical buyers are state retirement systems, pension funds and large investment-management firms.

The bonds are considered crucial to supporting such projects as the new convention center, as well as plans for the Virginia Performing Arts Complex, a new hotel at Miller & Rhoads and renovations of the downtown Marriott.

"Selling nonrated bonds in today's market is a challenge," Powell says, adding: "But if we can pull this off, this project has the potential to reposition Richmond not just as the capital of the South but as the new capital of the mid-Atlantic."

Dates are being set for some potential investors to visit the city to assess the projects underway, Powell says. The first visit is set for Jan. 9.

— Brandon Walters

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