US Development – Preserving Norfolk’s Past

5 12 2009

The Virginian-Pilot has reported that a South Carolina company, US Development, has purchased the Union Mission building, formerly the Navy YMCA building. They plan on renovating the structure and converting the building into 90 apartments. These units will be priced for the middle class, starting at $800/month. In addition to this great move for the Union Mission building, the company also announced that they have similar plans for at least 4 additional historic downtown properties, totaling $100 million and 1,500 new apartments. This is a excellent opportunity for the City of Norfolk and its residents. The increase in affordable living space downtown will increase the amount of people that live downtown. Most of these new, middle-class renters will be more likely to walk where they need to go and/or take public transportation. This, in turn, will be better for downtown shops and restaurants, the mall, and even the upscale apartments and condos, which will be more desirable when the street-scape is flourishing.

Norfolk has spent so much time and effort erasing our past that we have already lost so many buildings. Not too long ago (2007), Norfolk demolished three historic buildings to construct a four-star hotel. At the time, they couldn’t wait. It just had to be done right then or the building would not get built and the world would end. So they tore them down. Going on three years later, the still-vacant lot sits, covered in grass and gravel. The city says that they are waiting for the economy. I wonder how they could be waiting if it was supposed to be built two years ago when the economy was good.

Regardless, it is about time that we had a developer who had an actual interest in preserving historic buildings instead of tearing them down. Perhaps this is the beginning of a new path for Downtown. The district will actually grow, without the city’s help. More residents are needed Downtown to truly make a successful downtown. It is a shame that our council could not see that. Instead, they tore down buildings and catered toward the wealthy and the upscale. All of that is nice, but it won’t survive without the people of the middle class.





Restoring the Old – Herman Court Condominiums

4 11 2009
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Herman Court Condominiums

Here is yet another example of a developer renovating an old, dilapidated building and converting it into a modern space. Formerly an abandoned apartment building, the building, now Herman Court Condominiums, is made up of 16 condos ranging in price from $149,900 to $184,900. This method is much more effective than tearing the building down and hoping for new construction, as the city has done in the past. This project was started by Metro Housing Group with a partnership with the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority. While I do not like the idea of having a surface parking lot taking up the lot next door, I do understand that, for the time being, off-street parking is almost a must unless the site is in an established walkable community. I was also happy to see that the condos were not the only ‘new’ on the block. There were multiple houses on the block and dozens in the immediate area that have been renovated.

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When I was little, I was always confused when we played the game Monopoly. I always would ask, “why is Park Place the second most valuable property?” This confused me because the only Park Place I knew was definitely not going to get in the top group on any scale. Now, however, it is changing. A lot of new development and renovations have taken place there. If you have not been through lately, it is time you stopped by. I am not saying that it is at a peak yet, but it has certainly started the journey upwards. There are many homes left to go that need some fixing up. Not all of these I would call blighted or anything like that. These are just homes that, in some cases, have only had one owner for the past 50 years and just are in need of some updating.

Good job Norfolk. Good job NRHA.

If you are interested, please contact Linda McBurney at 757-289-5674. With financing by the Virginia Housing Development Authority, you could own one of these for little or no money down. It is within a walk to the park and the zoo. It is within a 5 minute bus ride to Downtown Norfolk. Not bad for under $1000/month.