A Town of Blacksburg neighborhood meeting that took place yesterday is among the first of many for the development of a new mixed-use building in Downtown Blacksburg.
The Brownstone is the newest proposed expansion by developer Steve Hill, of Hill Companies, whose previous efforts in Blacksburg prompted the creation of Clay Court. If development moves forward, the Brownstone will feature four floors designated for office space, residential units, and retail units.
Estimated costs for the project are between $12 million and $13 million dollars.
Hill is planning to have the structure erected in the block between Clay and Washington Street. The space previously held Food Time gas station and has been vacant since the demolition of the convenience store last July. The property will also incorporate one pre-existing structure, the previous home of Annie Kay’s Whole Foods.
While the former Annie Kay’s will only undergo renovations, the new addition next door will be built from the ground up.
“It’ll be between 60,000 and 70,000 square feet, all as one building built with three main sections in mind,” Hill said. “I’ve invested an additional $1 million to have a parking deck erected in the back section of the building.”
The development has not been without its obstacles. There is a 25-foot elevation difference between the Washington and Clay street sides of the structure. In response to how this will effect construction, Hill responded that architecturally the elevation has been “challenging.”
“To account for the rise, we’ve had to add a second elevator to the interior,” Hill said, “and its not cheap. Each elevator costs roughly $200,000 dollars.”
Another challenge Hill has faced was the inclusion of the building where Annie Kay’s once resided. While the building is old, and would be more cost effective to simply demolish, it has been specified by the Historic or Design Review Board of Blacksburg as “a structure of recognized historical significance”. However, Hill has managed to quell this issue by keeping the building intact and integrating its design with that of the new constructions.
“It’s served well as my main office for this project,” Hill said, “and keeping it has helped stave off a 15 month battle with the Historic committee.”
The meeting held yesterday was the first of many intended to determine if the Brownstone development can qualify for a Conditional Use Permit, necessary in Blacksburg if a building has office spaces located on the ground floor.
The top two floors are to be designed as residential space and the bottom two are intended as a mixture of office space and retail locations.
“First floor spacing is a limited commodity in downtown,” said Andrew Warrant, the zoning administrator for the Town of Blacksburg. “We have to provide for businesses that will see more foot traffic, and have a 24/7 kind of vibrancy. And while some offices can have that, we’d rather not provide it for ones that are closing at 5:00 p.m.”
Conditional Use Permits have been granted before in downtown for medical and general use offices. Talks about this potential C.U.P. will continue through September and conclude in October with a public court hearing with the Town Council.
Hill is hoping to achieve favorable results as soon as possible so that he can begin confirming more businesses for his venture, as well as secure financing more reasonably. The ability to create office space will help in booking the units more quickly.
“The drive is always to book retail,” Hill said. “But allowances for offices would really help to get parties interested. We’d like to allow up to 50 percent of the space for offices.”
While concerns over the empty storefronts on Main Street have been brought to Hill’s attention, he believes in the potential of the Brownstone in reinvigorating the downtown scene.
“I’m a former Hokie myself, and what downtown Blacksburg needs is more bodies on the sidewalks,” Hill said.