Momentum continues to build for more apartments and commerce in Manchester, as that section of Richmond south of the James River springs back to life.
About 3,700 apartments have been built in Manchester in the past 10 years and 1,200 more are under construction, real estate experts say.
“Manchester is attractive because it has large swaths of undeveloped land,” said Tom Papa, principal of Fountainhead Development LLC and a key player in the transformation of Manchester.
“It is downtown and it has the most room for growth. It has robust utilities already in place — water, sewer, gas, Internet, roads and curbs,” Papa said. “And it has a floodwall, a river and tens of millions of dollars’ worth of amenities sitting right there.”
Take Manchester and plop it in the suburbs: Developers would spend an incredible amount of time laying it all out and they would have to pay for it, he said.
Papa, along with developers Robin Miller, Drew Wiltshire and Sam McDonald, spoke Tuesday at a meeting of the Greater Richmond Association for Commercial Real Estate. About 200 people attended the event — “The new Old Manchester” — at the Country Club of Virginia.
“We have 550 people living in our properties who were not living there 10 years ago,” Miller of Miller & Associates said after a meeting.
“Most are young professionals, all with jobs and cars who like to walk, jog, ride their bikes and walk their dogs,” Miller said.
They aren’t the only ones interested in this urban, residential area, he said.
The housing market finally has turned, allowing baby boomers to sell their big and high-upkeep houses in the suburbs, move into a small place in the city and buy a second home on the river or in the mountains.
An apartment building, set to open in Manchester in May, will feature a dog park on a rooftop along with a patio area for grilling and a covered area for humans and canines who want to get out from under the sun.
The first floor of the dog-friendly 129-unit building at 1200 Semmes Ave. will be retail, although no leases are signed yet. The majority owner is Mark Purcell and the general contractor is Purcell Construction.
It will open the same month as a 41-unit apartment at 908 Perry St., a sister building to one that opened in summer 2012 at 909 Perry St. Both were developed by Miller & Associates.
Miller and his business partner, Daniel A. Gecker, a Chesterfield County supervisor, own 150 parcels in Manchester. They are 10 years into a 20-year master plan and on track, Miller said, rehabilitating old buildings and filling in vacant lots with new construction.
“We’re redeveloping a neighborhood, lot by lot and block by block,” Miller said. “It’s like rolling a snowball uphill. We’ve been pushing hard and now the snowball has reached the top; it’s easier to push and the snowball is getting bigger.”
One of the biggest parcels in Manchester is the Reynolds South property and it will buzz soon with construction.
The approximately 17.5-acre property south of the river, once a foil plant for Reynolds Packaging Group, will be turned into apartments, retail and offices.
Construction on the first phase — renovating three warehouse buildings into 225 apartments — will start in the next couple of months, said Wiltshire, vice president of Thalhimer Realty Partners, adding that the first apartments will open in spring 2015.
Thalhimer Realty, which purchased the property at Seventh and Hull streets for $9.25 million in December, is the development subsidiary of Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer, a commercial real estate firm in Henrico County.
Plans for the property call for 60,000 square feet of retail space on 5.4 acres along Hull Street.
They also include two high-rise buildings — an office with 250,000 square feet and the other for 200 to 250 apartments — near Legend’s Brewery between Sixth Street and the river bordered by Porter and McDonough streets.
“There’s nothing material at this point,” Wiltshire said. “We’re waiting for the market to dictate development and lease terms.”