City plans to move So­cial Ser­vices to South Side

Shift would fa­cil­i­tate ef­fort to re­vi­tal­ize Coli­seum area

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARK ROBINSON

To clear the way for the $1.4 bil­lion re­de­vel­op­ment of the area around the Rich­mond Coli­seum, Mayor Le­var Stoney’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is plan­ning to re­lo­cate the De­part­ment of So­cial Ser­vices from its hub on North Ninth Street to a South Rich­mond site 6 miles from down­town.

The Stoney ad­min­is­tra­tion plans to move the de­part­ment from the Mar­shall Plaza build­ing at 900 E. Mar­shall St. to the long-va­cant Philip Mor­ris Op­er­a­tions Cen­ter be­tween Walm­s­ley Boule­vard and Bells Road in South Rich­mond, about a mile from the Ch­ester­field County line, ac­cord­ing to Coun­cil­woman Reva Tram­mell, who rep­re­sents the area.

Tram­mell said she re­ceived a phone call Wed­nes­day from Matthew Welch, a se­nior pol­icy ad­viser in the city’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment de­part­ment, in­form­ing her of the plans. Three other coun­cil mem­bers — 2nd District Coun­cil­woman Kim­berly Gray, 4th District Coun­cil­woman Kris­ten Lar­son and 5th District Coun­cil­man Parker Age­lasto — said the Stoney ad­mi­nis-

tra­tion had not shared a spe­cific lo­ca­tion but had said a South Rich­mond site was un­der con­sid­er­a­tion. Welch did not im­me­di­ately re­turn an in­ter­view re­quest Thurs­day.

Stoney put the pos­si­bil­ity of re­lo­cat­ing ser­vices on the ta­ble a year ago, when he so­licited plans to build a new Rich­mond Coli­seum and re­make down­town. He has al­ready shifted the city’s cold weather over­flow shel­ter from the Pub­lic Safety Build­ing on North Ninth Street, a move Stoney said at the time was un­re­lated to the arena pro­posal.

De­mol­ish­ing the two city-owned build­ings on the strip would ready the site for NH District Corp., the pri­vate non­profit de­vel­op­ment group led by Do­min­ion CEO Thomas F. Farrell II. The group’s plans, which Stoney en­dorsed last week, call for a new of­fice build­ing on North Ninth Street to house a Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Uni­ver­sity pro­gram and a new home for The Door­ways, a non­profit that pro­vides long-term ho­tel space for fam­i­lies or pa­tients re­ceiv­ing med­i­cal treat­ment.

Along­side the of­fice build­ing, the group’s plans call for a 457-unit apart­ment build­ing mar­keted to VCU stu­dents with more than 100,000 feet of re­tail space, ac­cord­ing to a con­sul­tant’s re­port on the pro­posal re­leased by the city last week.

It’s un­clear what, ex­actly, the move would mean for So­cial Ser­vices’ clients, many of whom are seek­ing to ap­ply for fed­eral safety net pro­grams or re­fer­rals for emer­gency ser­vices such as hous­ing, medicine or food.

The city still owes more than $3 mil­lion in debt on the Mar­shall Plaza build­ing, ac­cord­ing to the re­quest for pro­pos­als, which re­quired de­vel­op­ers to sub­mit a plan for pay­ing off the debt of any city­owned build­ing in­cluded in their pro­pos­als.

While an NH District Corp. spokesman con­firmed the en­tity is re­spon­si­ble for se­cur­ing a site to re­lo­cate the de­part­ment, city of­fi­cials have not said who would foot the bill for the move it­self.

“Ne­go­ti­a­tions are on­go­ing and noth­ing has been fi­nal­ized as it re­lates to a site for [the de­part­ment],” said Shunda Giles, the de­part­ment’s di­rec­tor. “In any sce­nario, [So­cial Ser­vices] in­tends to main­tain a pres­ence down­town to serve res­i­dents.”

The de­part­ment has 350 em­ploy­ees based at the Mar­shall Plaza build­ing and serves about 3,600 clients per month, Giles said. Just over half of the city res­i­dents So­cial Ser­vices works with live south of the river, Stoney spokesman Jim Nolan said in an

email sent af­ter this story was pub­lished on­line Thurs­day.

“[So­cial Ser­vices] has been con­tem­plat­ing a move prior to, and in­de­pen­dent of, the pro­posed project,” Nolan said.

The Philip Mor­ris USA op­er­a­tions cen­ter opened in 1982 and has been for sale since 2009, when the to­bacco gi­ant re­lo­cated sev­eral hun­dred em­ploy­ees who worked there. The head­quar­ters build­ing sits on a gated cam­pus at 2001 Walm­s­ley Blvd. off Com­merce Road. On the prop­erty stands a 463,000-square­foot of­fice build­ing and a 106,000-square-foot in­dus­trial space. There are also 1,300 sur­face park­ing spa­ces. City prop­erty records show the build­ings and the 48-acre plot on which they stand are as­sessed at $30.3 mil­lion. The prop­erty is listed for sale with con­tigu­ous parcels the com­pany owns that to­tal 112 acres.

Two Cush­man & Wake­field | Thal­himer com­mer­cial real es­tate agents over­see­ing the sale of the

prop­erty did not im­me­di­ately re­turn a re­quest for com­ment Thurs­day.

The Philip Mor­ris prop­erty is lo­cated near the In­ter­state 95 Bells Road exit. It’s also on a lim­ited ser­vice GRTC Tran­sit Sys­tem bus line that runs ev­ery 30 min­utes be­tween 6 and 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 and 6:30 p.m. There is no ser­vice on the line mid­day, a GRTC spokes­woman said.

City of­fi­cials are weigh­ing an ex­pan­sion of GRTC ser­vice to the vicin­ity to co­in­cide with the re­lo­ca­tion plans, coun­cil mem­bers and a GRTC of­fi­cial said. In his email, Nolan con­firmed that the tran­sit ex­pan­sion would in­clude a ded­i­cated bus route.

“What was stressed re­peat­edly was the need for what­ever site was cho­sen to be ac­ces­si­ble,” Age­lasto said. “That seems aw­fully far away from any­thing.”

City of­fi­cials told re­porters at a me­dia briefing last week that they were still work­ing out the re­lo­ca­tion plans. An NH of­fi­cial con­firmed the en­tity was eye­ing a par­tic­u­lar site in South Rich­mond.

Farrell’s group sub­mit­ted the lone de­vel­op­ment plan in re­sponse to the city’s call for pro­pos­als. NH District Corp. had been study­ing how to re­de­velop the area around the Rich­mond Coli­seum months in ad­vance of when Stoney is­sued the re­quest for pro­pos­als.

NH District Corp.’s $1.4 bil­lion pro­posal cen­ters on a new, 17,500-seat arena that would be the largest in the state. The group is also propos­ing more than 3,000 new apart­ments, a 527-room ho­tel, a $10 mil­lion ren­o­va­tion of the his­toric Blues Ar­mory and new of­fice, re­tail and restau­rant space down­town.

The pro­posal hinges on the cre­ation of a spe­cial tax zone called a tax-in­cre­ment-fi­nanc­ing district, or TIF. Es­tab­lish­ing the zone would di­vert all new real es­tate tax rev­enues — ei­ther from new de­vel­op­ment or ris­ing prop­erty val­ues — to pay for a por­tion of the project.

New real es­tate taxes from within the TIF would go to­ward pay­ing down $620 mil­lion that the city would owe over three decades for bor­row­ing $350 mil­lion to pay for the new arena, ar­mory ren­o­va­tion and in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments tied to the project. City of­fi­cials say they be­lieve they can pay down the debt as quickly as 18 years, a pace that could save as much as $125 mil­lion.

The spe­cial tax zone would be bounded by First Street, I-95/64, 10th Street and the Down­town Ex­press­way. It would en­com­pass much of the city’s fi­nan­cial district, Mon­roe Ward and a por­tion of Jack­son Ward.

City of­fi­cials said a wider tax zone would help pay down the debt on the project faster, and they have pro­posed us­ing the first half of any sur­plus rev­enue gen­er­ated in the tax zone to make larger debt pay­ments. The Stoney ad­min­is­tra­tion has drawn the zone around an area that is eight times larger than where NH District Corp.’s plans cen­ter.

NH District Corp. is sourc­ing $1.1 bil­lion in pri­vate fund­ing to pay for the com­mer­cial por­tion of the project. Farrell has de­clined to name the in­vestors with whom the group is work­ing.

Af­ter eight months of re­view and ne­go­ti­a­tions, Stoney en­dorsed the group’s plans last week and said he would sub­mit them to the coun­cil, which must sign off on the de­vel­op­ment for the project to move for­ward.

Stoney has said the project could cre­ate 21,000 jobs and gen­er­ate more than $300 mil­lion worth of busi­ness for mi­nor­i­ty­owned con­trac­tors. The plans also in­clude 680 apart­ments re­served for peo­ple earn­ing be­low the re­gion’s me­dian in­come and a new trans­fer plaza for bus rid­ers.

The coun­cil’s next meet­ing, where Stoney could in­tro­duce a pack­age of or­di­nances ad­vanc­ing the plans, is set for Tues­day.

DANIEL SANGJIB MIN/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

City of­fi­cials say a move by the De­part­ment of So­cial Ser­vices from the Mar­shall Plaza build­ing (tri­an­gle build­ing, top right) had been pon­dered prior to the Coli­seum project.

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