Midtown Revamp

Midtown Row has taken steps toward becoming a reality during the past several months, but it could take a big leap forward if its final site plan is approved by the Williamsburg Planning Commission at a meeting Wednesday.

Plans for the mixed-use retail and residential center date back to January 2017, when Bethesda, Md.-based developer Broad Street Realty acquired the Williamsburg Shopping Center for $13.3 million. In November 2017, the developer also bought the Monticello Shopping Center across the street for $4.2 million, with plans to combine the two with the project.

City officials and Broad Street representatives hope the project will revitalize the two shopping centers, which have struggled to find an audience in recent years.

“I think it’s a very good project because we’ve been watching that area go downhill for 20 years, and I think this will revitalize that entire midtown,” said Andrew Edwards, a member of the Williamsburg Architectural Review Board and Planning Commission.

Aras Holden, vice president of asset management and acquisitions at Broad Street Realty and head of the Midtown Row project, said the developer chose to purchase the two shopping centers because of their proximity to the College of William and Mary and Colonial Williamsburg.

Construction on the project began in March, and plans for each building have been under review by the architectural review board since late last year.

The new shopping center will feature five main commercial buildings.

Buildings 2, 3 and 4 will be newly-constructed, five-story structures, with a ground floor of storefronts and four stories of what Broad Street calls “dormitory-style” apartments. Building 1 will have four stories of apartments, but its ground floor will have office space, as well as amenities for apartment residents. The project will feature a total of 240 residential units and will offer one, two, three and four-bedroom apartments.

At a Planning Commission meeting last September, Broad Street CEO Michael Jacoby said the apartments will be targeted at students and young professionals.

“The units and our leasing program are designed for students, primarily,” Jacoby said at the hearing.

Edwards said he sees the economic opportunity in targeting a younger audience, but wishes there were also units geared toward the city’s older residents.

“I’m happy they’re targeting students, but like many other people, I wish that perhaps they could’ve designated maybe one building for non-students and maybe seniors,” said Edwards.

Building 7 is an existing structure that will undergo heavy renovation. Current tenants, including Sal’s by Victor, Marshalls and the ABC Store, will occupy the space and there will be other retail space available for lease.

Food Lion will stay in its current location, but its exterior and interior will be renovated. Ace Hardware will move across the street to the Monticello Shopping Center and its current building will be renovated for future leasees.

“We consider that a key anchor for the project and we hope to have some kind of experience-based use for that building,” Holden said.

All other buildings in the two shopping centers are slated for demolition. Holden estimates the entire development will house some 20 storefronts, but says that number is still very much in flux and depends on the market.

“Our goal is to curate a healthy mix of local, regional and national tenants with a heavy emphasis on food and beverage, experience and convenience, which will appeal to residents, the greater community and of course, tourists,” Holden said.

The development also will feature a one-story, 285-by-124 foot parking garage facing Mt. Vernon Avenue and Monticello Avenue, which is mainly intended for use by apartment residents.

Early presentations for the project also indicated plans for a 140-room hotel at the corner of Monticello Avenue and Richmond Road, but Holden said those plans have been put on hold for the foreseeable future.

If the site plan is approved by the Planning Commission, Marshalls and the renovation of Building 7 are expected to be completed by spring 2019. The four retail and residential buildings will be ready for occupants by summer 2020. There are no buildings 5 or 6 in the plan.

All the retail and residential buildings will sport a contemporary design and will be constructed with metal, concrete, brick and wood, along with charcoal colored doors and rails. The buildings also will feature colorful Mardi Gras gold and red-orange accents, which some architectural review board members found issue with.

Board member Joseph Hertzler said he is in support of the project, but he feels the mix of materials and bold color scheme are too big of a departure from other buildings in the city.

“My biggest reason for not liking this particular project is that there are just so many different types of materials. I almost feel like it’s a display board for every material they offer, and I don’t think that’s right,” Hertzler said. “I hope I am 100 percent wrong, I hope that when this thing goes up, I stand back and saw ‘Wow, I was wrong, this thing looks great,’ because we’re going to be looking at it for the next 50 years or so.”

Edwards, who sits on the ARB and is second vice-chairman for the Planning Commission, said the modern design could be a good thing.

“I admit that the design is pretty bold and it’s not the typical colonial-esque stuff, but it’s not going to be anywhere near like New Town, which I think is a good thing. We don’t need another New Town or High Street,” Edwards said.

Midtown Row visitors will have access to bike racks, wide sidewalks and recreational areas, which Holden said is keeping with the developer’s mission to create an environment that is “pedestrian-focused, but automobile-accessible.”

To compliment the green space in and around the shopping center, the city will be responsible for streetscape improvements along Monticello Avenue.

“We’re trying to weave small gathering places throughout the site where people can hang out and relax,” Holden said. “We feel very strongly that programming is a very important part of retail generally in the 21st century, and in particular, for this project, so we intend to provide a lot of that.”

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