Through investment, foundation enables university expansion

The VCU Real Estate Foundation owns 35 properties in Richmond. These include the empty 419, 421, 707, 800 and 818 W. Broad St. properties and an unused warehouse on 108 S. Adams St. Infographic by Sagal Hasan.

Matt Leonard
Staff Writer

VCU plans to repurpose and make use of properties owned by its Real Estate Foundation, some of which sit vacant now.

The Real Estate Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization, was originally set up in the early 1990s as an intermediary for VCU when buying property. Now, its goal is to help the university with its plans for expansion by buying up surrounding properties, said Brian Ohlinger, the associate vice president of facilities management.

VCU owns 175 properties in Richmond. The Real Estate Foundation owns 35 of the properties, which are valued at $65 million, according to city records. These properties include the empty 419, 421, 707, 800 and 818 W. Broad St. properties and an unused warehouse in 108 S. Adams St.

The storefronts on 419 and 421 are planned to be repurposed into studio spaces for graduate students in the art program. The property is worth $684,000.

A contractor’s office is going to be built in the 818 W. Broad St. property. The property has a value of $304,000, according to city records available online.

The property at 800 W. Broad St., worth $264,000, is planned to be a restaurant, but the lease has yet to be signed and the future inhabitants can’t be named; however, they have “been successful in other locations they have had,” Ohlinger said.

The Real Estate Foundation is also able to rent property to private owners. The university owns the properties rented by businesses such as Thai Top Ten, Goshen Market and Jamaica House. Prices set by the surrounding area are charged by the foundation ($10-$25 per square foot) and this pays debt for land acquisition and taxes.

Ohlinger said the VCU Real Estate Foundation only pays taxes on property when a private business is leases it.

When acquiring new properties,   VCU and the Real Estate Foundation want to avoid eminent domain, said Ohlinger. Eminent domain allows the government to take private property for public use.

“Even if (we get the property) we lose in the court of public opinion because we’re the big guy taking the small guy’s land,” Ohlinger said.

One of the more expensive properties VCU owns doesn’t have a building on it. The 108 W. Canal S.parking lot, worth $1.04 million, may become a new residence hall, Ohlinger said.

“The cost is based off of what else is in the area,” Ohlinger said. “With new private apartments and other new buildings in that location the land is going to be expensive, as would most urban land.”

All properties owned by VCU are always in use, Ohlinger said. Properties owned by the Real Estate Foundation, however, could lay vacant waiting for a tenant.

“The one exception is the Raleigh Building owned by VCU,” Ohlinger said. “The building is in the design phase for renovations needed to get the building back up to code. We need $10 million from the state and it was not in the Governor’s budget this year.”

This has allowed the university to maintain lasting relationships with the communities that surrounds it, Ohlinger said.

“The relationship between the Fan and VCU has been good,” said Bill Montgomery, president of the Fan District Association.

Montgomery says his biggest problem with VCU is trash and the occasional party.

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