Williamsburg Shopping Center redevelopment gets go-ahead

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

Some of the city’s tallest buildings, bustling student housing, and a boutique hotel could be coming to the Williamsburg Shopping Center in coming years.

Williamburg City Council members agreed to grant Broad Street Realty a special-use permit that the developer plan to use to turn the center into a residential and retail hub.

Bethesda-based Broad Street Realty bought the Williamsburg Shopping Center in January for $13.3 million. Developers expect to officially close on their deal to acquire the adjacent Monticello Shopping Center by the end of the calendar year.

Broad Street asked for a special use permit so they can redevelopment the center. The permit, approved by council members on Oct. 12, will allow the following:

  • To permit four unrelated people to live together in its student-centered housing. The city limit is three.

  • To extend the city’s building height to 66 feet, up from the existing regulation of 45 feet.

  • To use 80 percent of the space in the new buildings as multifamily units. One floor would be for retail, and the remaining four for residential, multi-family space. The city allows 67 percent of a building to be used for multifamily units.

  • A reduction in open space at the center from 20 percent to not less than 15 percent. The site is currently 8 percent green space.

Housing for students, young professionals

Broad Street CEO Michael Jacoby thinks the housing component will attract college students and bring some much-needed vitality to an underperforming area of the city.

More housing could also coax some students out of city neighborhoods, vice mayor Scott Foster said. Foster is an an alumnus of the College of William and Mary and said he liked the idea of having more students frequenting one region of the city.

“The city can pull some of those folks and put them to use in a concentrated area right in the middle of town,” he said.

Several five-story buildings are in Broad Street’s plans. The first floor would be a storefront, then the remaining four would be meant to house students and young professionals.

A single-bedroom apartment would cost around $1,250 monthly, which includes rent plus all utilities, according to Broad Street representatives.

Economic Development Authority vice chairman Rick Overy lives a few blocks from the shopping center and said he does not think the height will be nearly as off-putting as some residents have predicted.

Several residents have told council members they disagree with the colors Broad Street is considering for the exterior of its buildings, which includes a red-orange and yellow. They’d rather the center have a colonial feel like much of the rest of the city.

Karen Riordan, president and CEO of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance, thinks differently. Part of the project’s strength comes from its uniqueness in relation to other parts of the city, she said.

“It should not look like Colonial Williamsburg, it should not look like Merchant’s Square,” she said. “It should look like itself.”

She added: “I can’t think of a project that better exemplifies the mission we support at the chamber.”

Retail space

Sal's by Victor, a Virginia ABC store and Food Lion will stay in the shopping center. Combined, the buildings total more than 350,000 square feet and will serve as Midtown’s anchor.

Developers plan to build more than 100,000 square feet of retail in the new development.

Broad Street attorney Vernon Geddy said developers are negotiating with a high-end pet supply store and an established microbrewery about becoming possible tenants.

Broad Street CEO Michael Jacoby said at a Sept. 20 Planning Commission meeting that Broad Street was in talks with a “national organic food grocer who may or may not be owned by a company called Amazon.”

Amazon acquired Whole Foods for $13.7 billion in August. Geddy confirmed Thursday that the talks were still ongoing.

Hotel or no hotel?

Broad Street presented two versions of their plans; one included a 140-room hotel, and the other did not.

Council accepted both plans but made it clear that they would rather have the version that includes a hotel.

Jacoby acknowledged in a September planning commission meeting that it would be hard to attract a top-tier hotel.

Doug Pons said he had faith city staff would work with Broad Street representatives to find a developer to build a new hotel.

“It’s a tough market, but new hotels can do very well here,” he said.

Foster said Williamsburg lacks a hotel like other cities of its ilk.

“There is no hotel within easy walking distance of the College of William and Mary,” he said. “If you look at any college town, that’s a huge hole.”

What’s next

Jacoby said in September that his company wants changes to both properties done by the summer of 2019, to accommodate the students entering the college that fall.

Plans for the Monticello Shopping Center aren’t public yet, but Jacoby said both the Ace Hardware and the Marshalls at 163 Monticello Ave. will move into the center if Broad Street has its way.

“This is about as good as it gets,” Pons said. “To have a private entrepreneur come to town with more than $100 million, it doesn’t happen often.”

The city Architectural Review Board will review the final set of colors Broad Street will use and the type of materials the company use during construction. A date for that meeting has not yet been set.

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

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