Written by | Ryan Rilee
I think we all like to fantasize about what our beloved city will look like in the years and decades to come, so I’ll indulge my own imagination for a moment. As a real estate professional, I like to envision which areas of the Metro will prove to be winning bets, and maybe even those that will become losing bets, over the next many years.
We all know the next Short Pump is out there, but where? My wife always says that wherever I drive, my eyes are on the horizon not on the road. For example, as I drive Patterson Avenue back and forth from sports practices, I wonder what that area looked like when the Wiltons began buying and building there. I like to imagine what my own kids will see when they drive up and down Broad Street where Stanley Martin plans to replace Lawrence Dodge with a new residential community, or what might stand where Genworth’s Brookfield office park sits today. At what point does membership at CCV’s Westhampton golf course drop to the level that it makes financially irresponsible not to redevelop? Will the RMTA ever lease or sell air rights over the Downtown Expressway so that once-bisected neighborhoods can be connected again? What a windfall to be had by all!
Personally, I see South Richmond, North Chesterfield, and the East End as ripe for opportunity. If I had substantial assets to invest, I’d start buying industrial or agricultural tracts along Route 5 east of Rockett’s Landing as close to the water as possible. Same south of the City. As the importance of logistics-oriented development grows and the areas between Hampton Roads and Richmond meld into a single regional industrial market, master planned warehousing and distribution developments that have been lying fallow for years will bloom in localities like New Kent.
I had family recently relocate to Richmond from Portland, Oregon, and they were flabbergasted at the deal that Rick Gregory and team got on the purchase of Clopton Siteworks, or that you can buy substantial acreage less than three miles south of Downtown for less than a dollar per square foot. In Portland, or Seattle where they lived prior, the “city” stretches for more than 50 miles. In Houston it’s 90 miles. Call me optimistic, but I’m envisioning a similar footprint for Richmond somewhere down the line!
What other predictions do I have? I think the Scott’s Addition phenomenon will jump 195 and 95 and become a massive district that stretches from Staples Mill to Lombardy. As historic tax credits go the way of the dinosaur, it will probably become cheaper to rebuild in the Fan and Museum District than to renovate. Perhaps we’ll get glossy new high density projects replacing existing ones like Stuart Court or Kensington Court. I think VCU will push north past 95 toward VUU and beyond. I’m confident that, before long, we’ll see boom cranes south of the James River as we drive I-95. And I see huge master planned communities like HHHunt’s River Mill continuing their northward push towards Ashland.
Theoretically, the more housing units that go up in our region, the more affordable they’ll be. But, in a growing regional economy, we need to make sure the people who might stand to benefit most from the ‘rising tide’ are included in the conversation. Steve Markel, J Sargent Reynolds, Bon Secours, VCU, and the passionate community organizers pushing for revitalization of the East End are helping impoverished community members improve their situations without being forced to relocate. I, for one, wouldn’t want to be forced to move simply for lack of other options. As such, stakeholders should explore privately driven affordable housing initiatives in lieu of publicly funded project housing. My opinion? I think it will take participation by the mission-oriented arms of large corporations, because in lieu of direct investment, the biggest carrot localities have to offer are tax breaks, which primarily benefit large corporations with large tax burdens.
It’s important to note that the implications of these shifts can be staggering. Opportunities to effect change in a community and to realize a meaningful economic benefit will encourage more international corporations like Amazon to look Richmond’s way in the future. And instead of Class A construction requirements that hamstring developers and stymie the affordable housing marketplace, modular or prefab construction options provide affordable buildability that is easy to maintain, which ultimately benefits everyone involved.
In case it isn’t clear by now, this is a stream of consciousness effort to solidify and explain the ideas constantly floating through my mind when I’m out in the field with clients. It’s meant to provoke thought, but by no means addresses all the complex issues that will arise if and when some of these visions become reality. I would, however, love to learn what thoughts – optimistic, fearful, indifferent – come to your mind when considering the question, “what will the Richmond Metro Area look like in 2030?” My perspective is but one, and there is incredible value in understanding the predictions of others with different outlooks. Please reach out to chat or meet up directly!