One of the most popular community arts galleries in Richmond finally may have some stability looking toward the future. Richmond BizSense broke the story this week that the former firehouse at 200 W. Marshall that houses nonprofit art gallery, Gallery5, was sold for $760,000 to locally based Vanderbilt Properties.
New owner Bruce Vanderbilt plans a renovation of the building that will cost between $500,000 and $600,000 and he also is working on a long-term lease with Gallery5, he says. Vanderbilt will renovate the 3,500-square-foot upstairs for office and event space, including replacing the roof and repairing the exterior.
Gallery5, which uses the large downstairs event space for various arts events, had been operating on a month-to-month lease as former owner Tom Robinson searched for buyers.
“It was a real pleasure working with Gallery5,” says Vanderbilt, who owns another firehouse at 1805 E. Grace Street, which houses Ironclad Coffee Roasters and Release the Hounds branding. “[With Gallery5] I think we landed on an option that is a win for them and works for us. It’s certainly good to keep Gallery5 around, it’s good for the community.”
Vanderbilt admits there is still plenty of work to do, including completing the long-term lease and city approvals. “But I think we’ve got a great solution for Gallery5 to operate with more manageable expenses in the lower level," he says. "And there are opportunities for them to resume operations in the entire building at some point down the road."
Some tenants already are interested in the upstairs space, Vanderbilt says, but his company is holding off on going to market until meeting with the city and segmenting the building for multiple tenants.
“The concept is basically opening the space, it would be perfect for a creative type group to operate [upstairs],” he says. “But we want to continue to conform to assembly use. An event space that conforms to office space code, so we can go in either direction from a demand standpoint.” He points out that he would like to find tenants that align well with Gallery5.
Prabir Mehta, chairman of the Gallery5 board, says it will take about a year to fix up the building. "Immediately, the Gallery will begin operating exclusively out of the downstairs for 2019," he says. "It will give us options to get creative with how we use the outside of the building or the street."
Mehta notes that the best thing about this news is the feeling that they’ve secured their home. Gallery5 will be making another major announcement in about a month regarding the future of the nonprofit, he adds.
Rivanna Youngpool, operational manager and talent buyer at Gallery5, explains that after the renovations, they’ll be able to count on a more reliable environment for everything from concerts to comedy and burlesque. “[It] will allow us to focus more of our energy on community and creativity,” she says.
"We're bracing for impacts during work [to the building]," Mehta says, noting that while Vanderbilt is doing exterior and upstairs renovations, Gallery5 volunteers will be handling the inside work downstairs, such as adding bathrooms, upgrading heating and cooling, and finding ways to use the vertical space for art work. "It's not a get-out-of-jail-free card," he says.
Vanderbilt says it’s a little early to speculate about the lease, but one option on the table is a three-year lease with seven options to renew, a solution which keeps Gallery5’s operating expenses lower, giving them time to make the downstairs improvements.
Mehta says the board, which has expanded in recent years, has been preparing for cost increases due to renovation and a new landlord for the past two years.
"I could not be more proud of staff and the board in taking an extremely difficult project through two years of uncertainty,” he adds, “to where we can confidently say we have someone who wants us to stay in the building.” Mehta says this is the biggest thing he's seen happen to the nonprofit in his 14 years with them.
"The best thing about the gallery is it’s always been a blank canvas for the community," he says. "And we’re going to do everything we can to keep providing meaningful arts experiences for the community. We encourage people to follow developments at longlivegallery5.com.