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Developer banks on East Broad empire

David Larter January 22, 2013 9
The Central National Bank building at 219. E. Broad St. (RBS photo)

The Central National Bank building at 219. E. Broad St. (Photo by David Larter)

A developer with the keys to a long-vacant fixture on the Richmond skyline has a new plan for the building.

Norman Jemal, principal and senior vice president at Douglas Development Co., said Friday that the Washington-based developer plans to redevelop the 23-story Central National Bank building into apartments this year.

“We think it’s a gem,” Jemal said. “We love what’s happening in the neighborhood, and with every development in the area it gets a little better. There is no doubt that it is time.”

Jemal said that the details of the project are being worked out but that the development would consist of more than 200 apartments and cost about $20 million.

The roughly 240,000-square-foot building has been vacant for almost 10 years. Douglas Development bought the building in 2005 from its previous owners, including local businessman Jim Ukrop, for $5.3 million.

The structure was built between 1928 and 1929 and is one of the last vacant Richmond skyscrapers awaiting redevelopment.

The John Marshall Hotel and First National Bank buildings have been converted into apartments and opened in the past year, with almost 400 apartments between them.

Taking their gamble several steps further, the Jemals have built a mini-empire of more than a dozen properties around the Central National property, including storefronts and office buildings along Broad Street.

According to city records, the developer owns about 225,000 square feet of real estate – not counting a handful of parking lots – within four blocks of the bank building.

The potential to transform an area that has been blighted for years is something Douglas Development knows well, said Dennis Kane, a Washington area contractor who has done more than $20 million worth of work on the developer’s past projects.

“If it’s in a rough neighborhood and the only thing worth anything in the building are the slabs of concrete – that’s his style,” Kane said of Jemal. “He has taken more garbage in this [D.C.] market and really turned it into a home run. He buys things that people are scared of and somehow he makes it work.”

Not all of Jemal’s deals have gone well in the Richmond market, however. Jemal sold two big buildings in Richmond in recent years, both for losses.

In December 2011, he sold the Interbake cookie factory on Boulevard for $6.3 million to Richmond-based Rebkee. Jemal paid $6.7 million in 2007.

Four months earlier, he sold 111 S. Sixth St. for $5.5 million to Dominion Resources after paying $11.8 million for the building in 2007.

Douglas Development had previously marketed the Central National Bank building for sale or lease with Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer.

“Their preference was always to develop it themselves,” said Mark Douglas, the property’s leasing agent with Thalhimer. “But with the recession and the economy being what it was, they were pursuing all options.”

Ry Marchant, owner of the restaurant Pasture on Grace Street, a block away from the Central National Bank, said another big renovation in the area would build on what has already started at the John Marshall, Miller & Rhoads and First National Bank buildings.

“I was in Pasture on Saturday night, eating dinner, and everyone in my party commented on how many people were walking around on Grace Street,” Marchant said. “The symphony had just let out, and there were people coming into Pasture or walking to either 525 or Rappahannock. We’re a long way from where we want to be, but I think we’re getting there.”

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9 Comments »

  1. Jay January 22, 2013 at 6:56 am - Reply

    It’s about time!

    I always told myself if I won a sizeable Powerball or Mega Millions jackpot I would buy and restore this building.

    Obviously that didn’t happen. This will do.

  2. Tom Wilkinson January 22, 2013 at 8:00 am - Reply

    A welcome addition to Richmond!

  3. Joe January 22, 2013 at 8:14 am - Reply

    The most promising is that they ae looking to transform the area, not just do one project. This one major redevelopment can make the other properties more desirable as well. Although I will believe it when I see it. Sounds promising though.

    • Jay January 22, 2013 at 9:09 am - Reply

      To their credit, Douglas Development Co has done really great things in DC.

      But he’s also known for sitting on properties for years at a time, teasing with a new development, and then sitting on the property for a few more years. [They've also had other {legal} issues in DC, but hopefully that's all in the past.]

      As you said, “I will believe it when I see it.”

      But I really hope this is for real this time.

  4. Jay January 22, 2013 at 9:49 am - Reply

    Also to add to the list of properties owned by DDC/Jemals:

    100 W FRANKLIN ST
    5/7 N 8TH ST
    701 E FRANKLIN ST/21 N 7TH ST
    627 E MAIN ST/629 E MAIN ST/4 S 7TH ST

    I’d guess they own well north of a million sq ft in downtown RVA.

  5. John Lindner January 22, 2013 at 11:42 am - Reply

    I’d love for Jamal to develop the bank building, if for no other reason than to experience first hand the drag his holdings are having on the surrounding area. Perhaps that will provide him with the personal motivation needed to move forward with other projects.

    His properties have fantastic potential. Unfortunately, there’s little difference between “potential” and “blight” in this stretch of Broad Street.

  6. Tristen January 22, 2013 at 11:53 am - Reply

    at $20 million, that is not much of a renovation for 200 apts. John Marshall was $60, although they did restore a lobby that was changed years prior. I just feel that this development is going to fall short to the bar raised by the Jm, Miller and Rhoads and First National

  7. Michael Dodson January 22, 2013 at 1:01 pm - Reply

    They have not redeveloped fully one property they owned in Richmond. They just hold, pay taxes later and then sell to someone else. And Tristen is right $20 million for the rehab. This building is an old office building and has VERY limited plumbing, especially on the upper floors. We will see it if ever really happens.

  8. Jake Crocker January 22, 2013 at 1:34 pm - Reply

    This is the giant missing puzzle missing from that area of Broad. Knock this out and the remaining small pieces will fall into place. I owned 3 of those small pieces back when this building was being touted for redevelopment in 2006. I was too soon on the trigger then and had to walk away but 2 years from now the area will look like what it should have 2 years ago. Pesky recession!

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