By Amir Vera, The Progress-Index
PETERSBURG — The announcement on the future of the Fort Lee Regency hotel was finally made Tuesday morning.
Christopher Harrison, developer and owner of C. A. Harrison Companies LLC, along with Lee Shadbolt with Commonwealth Architects announced the design of the new hotel and mixed-use development at the 380 E. Washington St. location in Petersburg. Along with renovations to the hotel, five new buildings will also be constructed.
“What we came up with was this mixed-use development that encompasses a new, limited-service Class A hotel with 125 rooms, 100 units of residential housing and then about 20,000 square feet of retail so that that you have a gateway to the new Petersburg,” Harrison said.
The total cost of the project, Harrison said, would be between $20 million to $25 million of which his company is completely financing. The construction of the hotel portion, he said, will bring with it 120 jobs to the city.
“It’s job creation, it’s economic development and will bring much needed services to Petersburg that is long overdue,” he said.
According to a press release from Commonwealth Architects, the development already encompasses several surrounding parcels. These parcels will be developed into a mixed-use complex with 26,700 square feet of retail and office spaces. Harrison said the 100 residential housing units will be garden style, market-rate apartments. Shadbolt said the two top floors of the existing 12-story structure will be demolished to align with the number of hotel rooms. He added that the upper level of the existing parking structure will also be demolished, which will allow light into the base of the building and align with parking requirements of the overall development. Plans for a flag hotel to come to the city have been made, but Harrison said that will be announced at a later date.
When the project was initially proposed to him by the city, Harrison said the plan was for just a hotel. However, he said once he looked at the site, its proximity to Exit 52 and the land that was around it he saw the potential for more development and “a project that would become the gateway for the city of Petersburg, that defined the new Petersburg.”
This announcement comes after the city purchased the Fort Lee Regency in a May 2014 tax sale for $176,745. Back in April 2014, City Council declared the Washington Street hotel a blighted property and nuisance to the community. At that point, the property had been vacant since 2012.
The hotel, formerly known as the Ramada Inn, was built in 1973. The hotel had been owned since 1998 by Petersburg Regency LLC. After it closed in 2012, the owners planned an assisted living facility for seniors. But those plans never moved forward.
City officials said the building has been stripped and sold for scrap, and it also appeared to be a gang hang-out despite health hazards. Authorities said the former hotel has also been the source of numerous calls to police about drug violations, vandalism, solicitation and other illegal activities.
“For too long, Petersburg has had an empty Exit 52. Now our residents and visitors will be able to come shop, eat, do business and have fun. When it’s time to stay overnight, we’re at a disadvantage,” said City Manager William E. Johnson III. “Our neighboring localities would benefit from the hard work of everybody on this project to make it happen in the Tri-Cities area.”
With this newest initiative the city plans to sell the property to Harrison’s company. Jay Ell Alexander, city public information officer, said the total cost of the sale is $750,000. She said Harrison’s company made a deposit of $75,000 in August and has 180 days from then to pay the rest.
As far as a timeline for the project, Harrison said they plan to break ground on the hotel in six months by June 2016 and have that done within 12 months. The next phase in 2017 will be the residential units, which Harrison said should take six months to complete. The last phase, the retail phase will begin after that and be completed within 12 months.
“The beauty of this project is that it will not only encompass the new Petersburg, but the old Petersburg,” Harrison said. “Everybody, all citizens, will be welcome to be a part of this project.”