Chesterfield planners and economic development officials are more committed than ever to the county’s long-held vision for creating a “downtown” area near the intersection of the Powhite Parkway extension and state Route 288, with a city-style street grid, dense, vertical building construction and a pedestrian-friendly mix of residential and commercial uses to attract both young, skilled workers and the companies that need them.
County leaders have identified several areas as ideal for the future development of such “urban nodes,” which they say are critical to diversifying Chesterfield’s housing stock, luring younger workers and growing the local tax base.
CenterPointe just might be the most attractive: The original 750 acres that make up the development offer easy access to the two major thoroughfares that connect Midlothian’s suburbs with downtown Richmond (Powhite) and western Henrico (288). The remaining undeveloped 140 acres or so that sit at CenterPointe’s apex – bounded by 288, Powhite, Lucks Lane and Charter Colony Parkway – can tap traffic from multiple entry points. It’s also within minutes of Midlothian Turnpike and Hull Street Road.
For all the lofty talk of reimagining suburbia, though, the reality is the county government doesn’t own the property where it would like to see downtown Chesterfield take shape. And while the company that owns CenterPointe says its economic interests ultimately align with the county’s vision, its plan is to continue moving forward methodically and let the market determine what the property becomes.
“Developers don’t even want to build vertical multifamily [units] in the city – it’s a great goal, but the cost of that type of construction isn’t justified by the rents,” said Chris Corrada, a principal with Riverstone Properties, a company owned by Richmond billionaire Bill Goodwin. Riverstone purchased the land that encompasses CenterPointe in 1992. “Going from where we are now in Chesterfield to 15-story buildings is a long way off.”
These days, commercial activity in the CenterPointe area is occurring around St. Francis Medical Center. Bon Secours built the hospital in 2005 on 28 acres acquired from Riverstone and recently announced plans for a $119 million project that will expand its capacity by 110,000 square feet.
Over the past few years, OrthoVirginia and several other tenants have moved into a two-story medical office building adjacent to St. Francis, and the Virginia Beach-based Memory Center opened a residential facility that serves people with Alzheimer’s and other cognitive impairments. Riverstone expects additional office construction in the area, principal Jeff Galanti said, as medical practices decide they want to be near the hospital, but don’t necessarily need to be in the hospital.
The developer also thinks restaurants and other retail tenants will locate in the area to meet demand from medical workers and nearby residents who’d rather not deal with traffic on Hull Street Road or Midlothian Turnpike. CenterPointe’s zoning allows for a maximum of 5 million square feet of commercial space.
After the housing market recovered from the 2007-2008 recession, hundreds of residential units have been built in CenterPointe – including three single-family subdivisions (Queensgate, Queensbluff and CenterPointe Crossing) and the 255-unit Colony at CenterPointe apartment complex. Now Norfolk-based developer Robinson Development Group is working on a second phase of the Colony complex, HHHunt is preparing to lease its Abberly at CenterPointe apartments and Riverstone is poised to close on a land sale for another large apartment complex later this year. Site work also is underway for a new 90-unit townhouse development off Charter Colony Parkway.
“The way we look at it, we want the retail to be so desirable because the rooftops are already there,” Corrada said. “Rather than, let’s go build a shopping center and beg tenants to come there. You end up with some of what you see in Chesterfield: random strip malls.”
“We’ve been trying to create a sense of place with this,” Galanti added. “We’ve sold off [parcels], but we want them to still feel like part of CenterPointe. We want that name to be familiar with this general area and for people to feel like you’ve entered a village or edge city.”
According to Corrada, Chesterfield’s apartment-building boom is being fueled by decades of pent-up demand; the county used its cash proffer policy, he said, to “discourage” multifamily construction by driving up the cost and making such projects nonviable.
Density used to be a dirty word in the suburbs. Now the Board of Supervisors is sending clear signals to developers that the county welcomes high-quality apartments – and young professionals who aren’t yet ready to buy a single-family home.
“If we want to attract the millennial workforce that we need for our jobs to grow, especially the talented millennial workforce that’s going to get the higher-paying jobs, we can’t accept they’re all going to live in Richmond and commute out here,” said Garrett Hart, the county’s economic development director. “We have to have a more urban opportunity for them so they don’t have to Uber back into Scott’s Addition every night. We have to have entertainment and restaurants, walkable and workable communities,” Hart added. “We can’t afford to just have really nice subdivisions – that’s only serving one part of the market.”
Because of its available acreage and accessibility to two major highways, Hart thinks CenterPointe eventually can become comparable to Buckhead, an affluent commercial and residential district in northern Atlanta that is anchored by an urban core of high-rise office buildings, hotels and condominiums.
County planner Steve Haasch cited another example of CenterPointe’s potential closer to home: Town Center of Virginia Beach, a city-style development with upscale restaurants and retail shops, high-rise offices, hotels and apartments that has breathed new life into an area about eight miles from the oceanfront.
“People will tell you they don’t think there’s a market for that in Chesterfield – that vertical kind of development – but the market is people’s choices,” Haasch said, using ice cream flavors to illustrate his point: “Right now in Chesterfield, your choices are vanilla and chocolate. Let’s try putting strawberry on a map and see if people eat it. You don’t know if you don’t try.”
Galanti and Corrada acknowledge the county’s push for increased density at CenterPointe is a good thing for Riverstone – it potentially increases the revenue generated from each acre of real estate – but said their company will develop the commercial parcels based solely on tenant demand.
“The battlefield is littered with people who have speculated on retail because it’s changing at the speed of light. That doesn’t make good business sense,” Galanti said. “When the right party comes to us, we want them to want to be here.” ¦
of course the strawberry part of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry only gets half eaten…
True. But you’re assuming the amount of strawberry being proposed would be equal to vanilla and chocolate.