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.”