Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration is still sorting out details of the $1.4 billion downtown redevelopment plan centering on a new Richmond Coliseum.
But that didn’t stop a local developer from pitching the city on his vision for the publicly owned real estate north of Broad Street in what he says is an alternative path to revitalizing the area for a fraction of the cost. Instead of demolishing the Coliseum, he wants to renovate it.
Joshua Bilder, of Sterling Bilder LLC, submitted a Coliseum redevelopment proposal to the Stoney administration and members of the Richmond City Council in January, calling it a more “creative and inclusive” option than the plans submitted by NH District Corp., the nonprofit entity led by Dominion Energy CEO Thomas F. Farrell II.
“What was being presented, it’s a concern, not only for me but the city as a whole,” Bilder said of the NH District plans, adding that he felt there needed to be more than one option for city leaders to consider.
Bilder’s plan landed with a thud at City Hall.
“This proposal not only circumvents the [request for proposals] process by being submitted a year late, but would have fallen significantly short of meeting the requirements of the RFP had it been submitted by the due date,” said Jim Nolan, a Stoney spokesman.
Bilder said his interest in the area around the Coliseum predates the mayor’s call for proposals, issued in November 2017. But he was unable to assemble a full proposal in the three-month window Stoney stipulated in the request for proposals.
Bilder said he submitted an initial pitch and received a letter from the city’s Department of Economic Development requesting more information. He went back to the drawing board, and in January proposed a roughly $270 million plan that he said he could execute in 24 months if it receives approval.
How Bilder would finance his proposal is fuzzy, but the plans he submitted do not rely on the creation of a tax-increment financing district. The method is critical to NH District’s proposal. It works by diverting new real estate tax revenue within a special zone to pay off money the city would borrow to finance the public portion of the redevelopment plan.
Instead, Bilder said he would try to cobble together several financing sources, including loans, as well as public subsidies in the form of historic tax credits and tax abatements.
Another difference: Bilder wants to purchase the Coliseum, Blues Armory and other properties he is seeking to redevelop. He did not specify in his plans how much he is offering for them. Farrell’s group proposed long-term leases for the properties it is seeking to build on, which would leave ownership with the city.
Instead of demolishing the existing Coliseum, as NH District proposed, Bilder wants to renovate the 48-year-old arena to save money.
“Having gone there many times, I felt like there was a way to repurpose the building and not tear it down completely,” he said.
The $168 million face-lift Bilder pitched would include a new sound system and upgraded lighting, bathrooms, concession stands, box seating and dressing rooms, according to the plan. Bilder proposes wrapping the arena with a new exterior material, then building a new structure — an apartment building, hotel or office — around it.
On the vacant land around the Coliseum, Bilder proposes building a $50 million mixed-use development he calls Navy Hill Yards, modeled after Chelsea Piers in New York City, according to the plan.
The development would feature a variety of recreational facilities, including a golf club, bowling alley, skating rink and sports fields. It also would have an event center and retail space. Also included in the complex would be a wellness center for “food programs and cooking classes for the Richmond community,” according to the plan.
Bilder proposes an $8 million rehabilitation of the historic Blues Armory into a hotel, apartments or office space, or a combination of the three. Next to the armory, his plans call for a $17.4 million apartment complex, with some units set aside for workforce housing and public housing residents with vouchers. The plans would bring between 700 and 1,000 apartments to the area, Bilder said. It is unclear where in the 10-block area north of Broad Street the new facilities in Bilder’s plan would rise; the proposal he submitted to the city does not include a detailed site plan.
Rounding out the budget is $25 million to $30 million worth of infrastructure upgrades in the footprint, including reconnecting the street grid, laying new alleyways and building new sidewalks, according to the plan.
Bilder said he had not received a response from the city since submitting the plans.
“I’ve made some promises here, but I feel like I could deliver on them,” Bilder said. “Whatever happens, I hope it’s the best thing for Richmond.”
In the last 15 years, Bilder has invested $40 million in the city on historic renovations and mixed-use and residential projects.
His portfolio includes the East End Theater on North 25th Street in Church Hill, Patrick Henry Square on North 24th Street, and the Sterling Row town homes in Shockoe Bottom. More recently, he oversaw the renovations that prompted the 13-month closure of the East End Post Office.
The Stoney administration has spent a year reviewing and negotiating NH District’s proposal, which the mayor publicly endorsed in November. Stoney has yet to submit the plans to the City Council for consideration, citing ongoing negotiations over details he has refused to specify.
Its plans call for a 17,500-seat arena; a 527-room hotel; more than 3,000 new apartments, with 680 reserved for people earning less than the region’s median income; 790,000 square feet of office space; 275,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space; a $10 million renovation of the Blues Armory; and space for a new transfer plaza for GRTC Transit System bus riders. The plans also call for infrastructure improvements in the roughly 10-block area north of Broad Street where the development would rise.
Stoney has said the project will create 21,000 jobs, including 9,000 after construction is completed, and provide more than $300 million in business for minority-owned contractors. He has touted a report by a consultant his administration hired that estimates the project could generate $1.2 billion in tax revenue beyond what is necessary to pay for it over 30 years.