A Washington-based developer has offered to buy and renovate the Richmond Coliseum and redevelop about 14 acres of publicly owned downtown real estate, according to an offer letter obtained by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Douglas Development Corp. lodged the unsolicited $15 million offer on the heels of the Richmond City Council killing the $1.5 billion Navy Hill proposal, which called for demolishing the Coliseum and for a new arena and mixed-use development to rise on the same property.
A majority of the council endorsed scrapping that project and undertaking new planning for the city-owned land north of Broad Street.
Enter Douglas Jemal, president and founder of Douglas Development, which has significant property holdings downtown.
“I am the right guy for the job,” Jemal scrawled at the bottom of the Feb. 18 letter he sent to Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration laying out his terms.
His firm would build a mixed-use development that includes a hotel, an unspecified number of apartments, retail and office space, a grocery store and a transit center it would lease back to the city, the letter states. The development would rise around a renovated Coliseum, rather than a new arena.
“We are experts at historic preservation and plan to bring the existing structure back to its former glory,” the letter states. It adds that the firm’s plans do not rely on any tax increment financing, in an apparent jab at the controversial financing of the failed Navy Hill plan.
The $15 million offer, with a $1 million deposit, expires on May 18, the letter states. The offer was first reported Monday afternoon by Richmond BizSense. A Stoney spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The sum is lower than the price Stoney negotiated with NH District Corp., the development group led by Dominion Energy CEO Thomas F. Farrell II. Under that deal, 21 acres of publicly owned land would have changed hands for $15.6 million.
The council questioned that sale price, which Stoney negotiated and defended. The mayor’s administration rebuffed requests from the council to conduct a proper appraisal of the city-owned properties. It said the deal his administration had brokered with Farrell’s group had other benefits beyond the sale price, like affordable housing and $300 million worth of business that would benefit minority-owned firms.
The Stoney administration notified the council of Douglas Development’s offer in a memo sent Monday afternoon. The notification is required under city code when the administration receives an unsolicited offer for city property.
The memo from the Stoney administration states that Jemal’s offer does not specify the projected investment value, tax revenue or number of jobs that would be created under the plans. The Richmond Department of Economic Development plans to follow up with Douglas Development for additional information, according to the memo.
News of the offer spread as the council prepared to discuss its next steps for redeveloping the area.
“I think it shows there’s an interest and we can do it without putting public funding at risk,” said Stephanie Lynch, the 5th District representative who sided with the majority earlier this month in striking the Navy Hill deal from the council’s docket and starting a new planning process.
“We still have to adhere to our public input process, but this opens up some opportunity and possibly some other people will want to jump in,” Lynch said.
The process the council endorsed earlier this month calls for the development of a small area plan with “robust” public input. On Monday, the council debated how, or whether, Jemal’s offer fits into that as it weighed next steps for the city-owned land and the shuttered arena.
Asked for comment on his proposal Monday, Jemal said: “Just would like to add after failure there could be success, of something that can get built in our lifetime.”