Commercial property brokers are trying again to sell land on Mayo Island.
John Jay Schwartz of Have Site, Will Travel along with Bill Mattox and Susan Jones of Colliers International are calling the 15-acre site a “redevelopment opportunity.”
The island is zoned M-1, a light industrial designation that would permit office buildings but not residential use. The island is primarily owned by the Shaia family.
“We are open to the best plan from the best developer,” Schwartz said. “The property is surrounded by water with a magnificent view. It would be a whale of a (corporate) headquarters site or a whale of a hospitality site.”
The property for sale includes 4.6 acres on the western, or upriver, side of the 14th Street Bridge, and 9.9 acres on the eastern side of the bridge.
Alan Shaia said the family was looking to sell the land again because the real estate market is improving.
“We had it on the market in 2007 and 2008 and, of course, the bottom dropped out,” he said. “We think there is interest out there in taking the island to the next level.”
The City of Richmond’s Riverfront Plan, a long-term package of improvements along the James River that would cost about $60 million, envisions turning the island into a park. The idea of a Mayo Island Park was also discussed as part of the Downtown Master Plan and in earlier city discussions.
Shaia said he thinks the land is best suited for development. He noted that the city has “many, many acres of parks” already, including Belle Isle just upriver. He said one option could be to develop part of the land and create a park on another.
Most of Mayo Island is below the 100-year flood line, which makes zoning changes, especially for potential residential development, difficult from a regulatory standpoint.
The riverfront plan also notes that the floodwalls on both banks of the river are likely to make any future flooding on Mayo Island worse, as water would be kept off the north and south banks and pushed into the middle of the river.
Commercial development, according to the plan, would require building a secondary access route to the island that is higher than the current bridge and above the line of the 100-year floodplain. The island is not connected to the city’s sewer system.
Residential developments would likely require a second access bridge that is above the level of the floodplain. Other proposals may or may not need a new bridge.
The 100-year flood line is at a water level of 36 feet. The Mayo Bridge is at a level of 30 feet. According to Schwartz’s documents, which cite the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there have been two floods above 30 feet in the past 100 years.
If Mayo Island became a park, the Riverfront Plan recommends allowing a mix of pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle traffic across the 14th Street Bridge.
The first bridge across the James River, which opened in 1788, crossed Mayo Island. The toll bridge was operated by the Mayo family, who gave their name to the island. Floods and the 1865 evacuation fire routinely destroyed the bridges until the current span opened in 1913.
According to the river plan, a sawmill was located on the island, east of the current road, for much of the 1800s. The island was then home to a park and the city’s baseball stadium.
According to Bill O’Neal’s history of The International League, the ballpark at Mayo Island, known as Island Park and as Tate Field, had a short fence in left field. An employee was sometimes stationed in a boat to retrieve any baseballs hit in the river. Fire destroyed the main grandstand in 1941.
Minor league teams later played at Mooers Field in Scott’s Addition before moving to Parker Field in the 1950s.
In 2008, a Northern Virginia developer pitched a $250 million community on the island that would include condominiums, offices, shops and a hotel. That plan advanced far enough for Republic Mayo Island LLC to reach a contract to purchase the island from the Shaia family. It also included a $5 million bridge that would ensure emergency access to the island during floods.