Leaders from the Bon Secours Richmond Health System, VCU Health and Thalhimer Realty Partners broke ground Tuesday on a new mixed-use development that will rise on the old Westhampton School property.
The project will bring a new 55,000-square-foot pediatric facility that will house programs from each health system. Additionally, Bon Secours is planning 128 apartments, office and retail space in two new structures — an 80,000-square-foot mixed-use building and a 93,000-square-foot residential building — on the property at the intersection of Libbie and Patterson avenues in the city’s West End.
“We are working to meet the health care needs of the community now and in the future while also reviving a prominent corner in a great neighborhood where people love to live, work and raise their families,” said Francine Barr, president of St. Mary’s Hospital, a Bon Secours facility.
Bon Secours is working with Thalhimer Realty Partners on the $53.3 million mixed-use development, which also includes a parking deck and some surface parking on the site totaling 437 spaces. The health system selected the development firm after receiving pitches from 11 developers that responded to a call for proposals issued in 2017.
The new construction will rise alongside the Westhampton School’s easternmost building, which was built in 1917. The school building will be renovated and house 21,000 square feet of office space.
Bon Secours said last fall that it would raze the other building, which dates to 1930 and is connected to the 1917 structure by an enclosed walkway, because it determined that renovating the building would be too expensive. The two buildings have been vacant since 2009, when Richmond Community High School moved out after nearly 20 years at the site.
The development plans, originally unveiled last fall, also call for a commemorative memorial on site for the school, which played an important role in desegregation in Virginia. The health system formed an advisory committee to guide those efforts; it’s still finalizing plans for the memorial.
Tuesday’s ceremonial groundbreaking was seven years in the making.
Bon Secours gained control of the school property in 2012 through a controversial economic development deal with the Richmond Economic Development Authority. The deal, brokered under former Mayor Dwight C. Jones and approved by the City Council, brought Washington’s NFL franchise to Richmond for its annual training camp. As a part of the deal, the health system agreed to sponsor the camp and invest in the city’s East End.
Bon Secours agreed to lease the Westhampton property from the EDA for 60 years. Originally, the health system planned to renovate the two buildings and open a nursing school. The health system eventually scrapped those plans, calling them too costly. Instead, Bon Secours said it would raze the two buildings before changing course again in August 2017 and pursuing private redevelopment of the property alongside a new medical office building.
Last summer, the City Council approved Bon Secours’ request to rezone the parcel from residential to a mixed-use business district. The decision cleared the way for the health system to move forward with private development on the site.
The health system’s rezoning request faced opposition from some neighborhood, civic and preservation groups, as well as some residents in the vicinity. Among the top concerns raised over months of community meetings was the preservation of the historic school property.
What would become of the school, where Richmond Public Schools student Daisy Jane Cooper broke the color barrier in 1962, was an open question until last fall, when the health system announced plans to incorporate the older of the two school buildings in its development plans.
“Throughout all of the collaboration, we have heard loud and clear how much the community cares about historic preservation,” Barr said.
The proposed investment on the property is more than twice the $24 million that Bon Secours is required to meet under its agreement with the city. The health system is also required to create at least 100 full-time jobs on the site. The development is projected to generate $524,000 in new real estate taxes for the city. It also will create more than 120 full-time jobs, Barr said.
Andreas Addison, who represents the area on the City Council, said the plans the health system settled on after meeting with neighbors set a precedent for how “good development and good growth can be done with collaboration with the community.”