Construction begins on mixed-use buildings on campus

Amir Vera
Staff Writer

A private firm has begun construction on two buildings on Grace Street in the heart of VCU’s Monroe Park Campus. One of the buildings will be on property owned by the VCU Foundation, a nonprofit corporation that works as the charitable support arm of the University. Part of that building will be for official VCU use.

Demolition began this week on the corner of Shafer and West Grace streets to clear the way for the new 11-story apartment complex, called The Square, at 900 W. Grace St. Adjacent to The Square at 912 W. Grace St. will be a seven-story mixed-use office building.

The street level of the mixed-use building will be used as retail space. Three of the office floors will be used for global education, two floors will be for media relations offices and one floor will be reserved for VCU Procurement Services.

According to Brian Ohlinger, associate vice president of facilities management at VCU, the housing project costs a total of $22 million, but VCU and the VCU Real Estate Foundation isn’t footing the bill. The VCU Real Estate Foundation is, however, involved financially in the development of the office building.

Shafer/Grace LLC is the company responsible for developing the properties. Phil Roper is the developer with the company.

“I think this is going to increase the availability of Class A apartments,” Roper said. Class A properties are luxury units, often newer buildings in desirable districts — in this case, high-end apartments in the heart of VCU’s campus.  “We’ll have upperclassmen, professors and business people renting there.”

Walter Parks of Walter Parks Architecture is responsible for the design of each building and said he thinks that these new projects will bring more unity to the VCU community.

“I think it’ll be positive for VCU. They’re centrally located. There’ll be some new retail. It’s a central place for the classrooms and offices. It brings the university together,” Parks said. “It’s a great place to live if you’re faculty, student or a graduate student. It’s very close, so you can walk to everything.”

The Square apartment complex will be open to anyone, but the focus, according to Ohlinger, will be students. This building, with a total of 11 floors, will also have features similar to the office building adjacent to it. The Square’s top floor, according to Parks, will be an amenities space and include a fitness room and rooftop decks for recreation. Pricing on the apartments has yet to be announced.

After six years of development, two new building projects are set to be completed by mid-to-late 2014, Ohlinger said. The Square is on schedule to open in July, 2014. The mixed-use building is set to open in November, 2014.

Along with these two new buildings, Ohlinger said that two VCU projects for 2015 are in progress as well.

“We are in the process of selecting a design build team for the construction of two more housing projects on Grace Street on the block occupied by the 500 Academic Centre,” Ohlinger said.

“There will be one building at Harrison and Grace (streets) to house about 250 beds, and a second building at Broad and Ryland streets to house about 150 beds. These will open in the summer of 2015.”

According to Curtis Erwin, the executive director for residential life and housing, there are currently 5,355 beds in on-campus housing between both VCU campuses. When West Grace North opens next academic year, there will be 5,743 beds. With the addition of the 2015 VCU housing projects, there will be a total of 6,143 beds in on-campus housing by the end of summer 2015. The Square will be privately managed and won’t be considered on-campus, despite the proximity to VCU.

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