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VCU has $83 million plan for six blocks

David Larter April 25, 2013 17
A rendering of the planned classroom and office tower. (Produced by RenderSphere, LLC)

A rendering of the planned classroom and office tower. (Produced by RenderSphere, LLC)

Virginia Commonwealth University’s takeover of West Grace Street continues.

The school has plans for more than $83 million worth of development in the six-block stretch between Belvidere Street and Ryland Street. The planned projects include two student-housing buildings, a seven-story office and classroom tower, and possibly a retail computer store in the next three years.

Brian Ohlinger, head of facilities at VCU, said the 79,000-square-foot office and classroom tower at 912 W. Grace St. would house the school’s global education program, its media relations department and some faculty offices. The VCU Real Estate Foundation owns the site.

Phil Roper is developing the $15.2 million tower for VCU. He and developer George Emerson are working on a neighboring 11-story, $20 million student apartment tower at 900 W. Grace St.

Ohlinger said that the school’s focus on Grace Street was laid out in the school’s 2004 master plan but that the rash of construction has also been driven by opportunity.

“The office and classroom building, for example, that was kind of a target of opportunity,” he said. “We don’t have any say when a private developer wants to build something. But we decided to take advantage of [Roper and Emerson] being there to build something along with it and take advantage of low construction costs.”

Roper said the joint development on the tower meant both entities could save money on materials and infrastructure costs.

“We gave them a number that was a whole lot less than what it would be if they were to do it themselves,” Roper said.

He offered brick for two buildings as an example. “You get into a different price range when you order it all together rather than separately.”

Walter Parks Architect designed the planned VCU office building. KBS is the general contractor. The project is waiting on approval for its plan of development, according to city records. The school submitted the plan Feb. 22.

Ohlinger said the bottom floor of the office tower would include 5,000 square feet of retail space.

The former Ukrops at 1024 W. Grace St. (Photo by David Larter)

The former Ukrop’s grocery store at 1024 W. Grace St. (Photo by David Larter)

The school is also planning two student housing buildings at the old Ukrop’s store site at 1024 W. Grace St. VCU wants a 250-bed building and a 150-bed building on the 2.4-acre parcel at a combined cost of about $36 million.

“With the two new projects, we’ll have approximately 6,300 beds,” he said. “Our goal is to have 7,000.”

The school is accepting proposals for the design and building contract on the student housing projects. Proposals are due May 16, Ohlinger said.

At 920 W. Grace St., a vacant 2,800-square-foot retail space that once housed a Little Ceasars Pizza is slated to become a VCU-run computer store. The school had a technology shop in the student commons that sold computer equipment and software, but it closed a few years, Ohlinger said.

“We’re getting the final recommendation on that soon, but, if it goes ahead, we hope to have it open by August,” he said.
Ohlinger said the renovations on the former pizza shop would cost about $300,000. The VCU Real Estate Foundation owns the building.

All this is on top of the forthcoming $32 million Institute for Contemporary Art at the corner of West Broad and North Belvidere streets. That project is being funded by a capital campaign that has raised about half of its goal.

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17 Comments »

  1. Larry Womack April 25, 2013 at 9:11 am - Reply

    I don’t know if it’s a bad design or an awful rendering doing a mediocre design an injustice, but I am not a fan. I feel like VCU is determined to go with designs that will be dated before the buildings are completed lately.

    • Kennedy James April 25, 2013 at 11:45 am - Reply

      I have to agree with both Larry and Charles on this one. I think the design is lacking excitement and feels drab and boring. Although, I think it might be more the artist’s depiction of the buildings. Something about the image is unsettling. I am however glad VCU is continuing on their development of Grace Street. Go Rams!

  2. Charles Batchelor April 25, 2013 at 10:05 am - Reply

    VCU is the star of the region. Everyone should be proud of their success. I didn’t go to school there, but from what I have seen from their grads, it’s a quality university. Still, I have to agree with Larry Womack’s comment regarding the design. I look at those buildings in the photo here and I don’t think “college” or “community” (this will be, after all, the home for people for months or years). Instead I think “insurance offices” or “DMV.” There is nothing in this design that is human scale; instead it’s designed to the scale of the passing automobiles and trucks.

  3. Dennis April 25, 2013 at 12:53 pm - Reply

    I like the design.

  4. Will April 25, 2013 at 2:24 pm - Reply

    I’m sure the finished product will be a solid addition to Grace Street. Go Rams!

  5. john m April 25, 2013 at 4:11 pm - Reply

    Some people just do not get it. Have they looked at the space that VCU is redoing? An empty lot would be better then what is there now. Any thing that VCU has touched has turned out great! If it was not for VCU and MCV Richmond would be a ghost town. When VCU completes a project we as Richmonders have something to be proud of. I wish the CITY would take care of their propeties like VCU does. To those who say it is ugly or not very exciting, needs to walk through the campus and see what a GREAT job VCU has done and look in to the future of more wonderful things to come.

    • Mason April 26, 2013 at 6:55 pm - Reply

      At one time someone probably said that the Seaboard Building (Broad and 195) was better than a parking lot. Now most would agree its just an awful box of a building. Unfortunately, the private-developer partnership leads to design by pro-forma – “how many rooms / how much space can we get for how many dollars?” If VCU had true social consciousness to improve the Richmond cityscape, they’d agree… insist… that a few more dollars be invested to create enduringly meaningful architecture on their campus.

      The payback would come to VCU in the form of attracting a higher caliber student and faculty, proud of the form of their university.

      On the flip side, kudos to VCU for engaging Holl to design a their new art center and budgeting accordingly for a signature building, certain to attract national attention. Walter Parks is no Steven Holl, but a very talented architect (and local!) capable of doing better, if not constrained by the budget situation.

      Winston Churchill said “We shape our buildings, and afterwards, our buildings shape us”. These buildings appear designed to shape mediocrity.

      • Jay April 28, 2013 at 10:17 pm - Reply

        I, for one, think the Seaboard Building (never knew that was the name) is quite attractive.

        But I agree with everything else you said.

        • Stuart April 29, 2013 at 9:15 am - Reply

          I agree, 3600 W Broad is a concrete box with holes in it, just like the prefab communist plattenbau of the GDR. But Kudos for hiring the starchitect Holl to do an insane metal-clad trapezoidal trophy structure on the cheap? His stunt planned for Broad and Belvidere looks like a comically oversized gas pump inspired by the Hess station across the street.

  6. Liz April 25, 2013 at 7:16 pm - Reply

    Wow, that’s funny. Because there was a meeting for VCU apparently stating why tuition was being raised. Suddenly I see why they evaded the question of “where are you getting this money to build more buildings if the school is doing so poorly financially.” And here’s another thing. We already have classes that are overfilled and understaffed, but they are building not one, but TWO new dorms. And one classroom. ONE. Do you see why this is a horrible idea? Maybe if VCU funneled its money into higher pay for teachers so they could afford higher quality professors, and buildings so there would be a wider range of classes, they wouldn’t have to worry about finances. So no, VCU is not the greatest thing to happen to Richmond, and anyone who tells you otherwise is being paid to do so.

    • John M April 26, 2013 at 5:34 am - Reply

      Liz
      Not sure if your comments were directed at me or not. But While most schools are raising the cost (and I agree tuitions are too high) The article is about the design of the buildings and the effect on the CITY. This does help the city and the local suppliers. When you add enhancements it is good for all, and VCU has been good to the CITY of Richmond; and no I am not being paid to say so.
      John

  7. Jason April 25, 2013 at 9:13 pm - Reply

    @ Liz
    “We already have classes that are overfilled and understaffed, but they are building not one, but TWO new dorms. And one classroom. ONE.”
    Enrollment has been pretty flat at VCU for more than a few years. All the dorm construction is because VCU is shifting to a more residential student population, the number of overall students isn’t growing much.

    “Maybe if VCU funneled its money into higher pay for teachers so they could afford higher quality professors, and buildings so there would be a wider range of classes, they wouldn’t have to worry about finances.”
    Did you check how the new buildings are being financed? A lot of what’s going up are revenue generating buildings financed with debt. Most classrooms are financed with state debt issues for education are pretty much non existent now. VCU can’t finance additional faculty (continuing operations) with debt(one time funding). it isn’t fiscally responsible, and VCU would be digging itself into a bigger ditch instead of the fantasy you’re imagining. Also, VCU Health systems profits do not subsidize VCU at all. some schools funnel hospital profits into the school but VCU isn’t one of them. The funding gap is due mostly to declining state support.

  8. joe April 26, 2013 at 6:50 am - Reply

    You can always go to school some where else. VCU is by far the greatest thing in Richmond. The biggest crime in higher education is that 60% of uva students come from VA and 90% of VCU students come from VA and uva gets more state funds. The state has been screwing VCU for yrs. VCU is educating Va’s kids.

  9. Davif April 26, 2013 at 10:33 am - Reply

    How about expanding the library and a new and updated dining program that cuts all ties with Aramark? That would be of more use to the student population.

  10. Greg April 26, 2013 at 12:14 pm - Reply

    I’m not sure if this is germane to the comments, but wasn’t there a “gentlemen’s agreement” a few years back where VCU agreed not to expand west of Harrison Street? What happened to that agreement and how do the residential neighborhoods in that area feel about this development? Are we changing the character of the lower Fan with this?

  11. Brent April 27, 2013 at 4:44 pm - Reply

    The library is about to be expanded, significantly. There are also new classrooms planed for Grove and Linden(?)…. The space just west of the library and north of the new academic building under construction. The VCU master plan that was released on 2/14/13 has renderings and a timeline for both.

    No, this doesn’t hurt the lower Fan. It makes the Fan (and the city) relevant.

  12. C May 5, 2013 at 10:13 am - Reply

    I don’t live too far away, and I’m all for VCU expanding. Richmond has plenty of underutilized real estate, and VCU is basically what keeps the city from turning into petersburg – the reason the fan became such a vibrant community is VCU.

    So even though I think the architecture is warmed over at best, (and yes, I’m including the new art museum) I’d pretty much support anything there

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