Katie Hollowell, Contributing Writer
A VCU proposal to build temporary housing for relatives of long-term hospital patients remains pending a week after Richmond City Council voted to strike down the Navy Hill development plan.
The proposal for an area in Navy Hill called “Block D” would include new office spaces for the VCU Medical Center, a facility for the families of pediatric patients and a replacement hospitality house for The Doorways, a nonprofit organization that provides lodging to patients and their families.
“It’s also important to note that the D Block development requires the full cooperation and support of the Mayor and City Council to go forward,” VCU spokesperson Michael Porter said.
VCU was set to appear in court Feb. 5 to determine if they would hand over documents, but released the “Block D” plan the day before, as reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. VCU rejected a Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, filed by nonprofit news site MuckRock, to see any documents or plans between VCU and NH District Corp.
Charlie Schmidt, VCU adjunct political science professor and board member for Richmond For All, filed a writ of mandamus asking the court to release the document after VCU rejected the FOIA request. Schmidt said he will drop the case because the news was made public.
“No one else was competing for the site development,” Schmidt said in an email. “There was no private hospital trying to swoop in and get the land. There was no competing university or other private actor vying for the land. This was an exclusive deal between Navy Hill and VCU.”
The development would replace the old Richmond Public Services building and renovate the area between 9th and 10th streets, and Leigh to Clay streets. A retail pharmacy, shopping and dining locations, and child care are included in the proposal.
The plan would entail a public-private partnership, meaning the city would sell property to a private developer, which then would lease it to VCU. This would allow the development to generate long-term tax revenue for the city.
President and CEO of The Doorways Stacy Brinkley said she wants this plan to be a new start for her organization and expand what it can offer for people who use the facility in the future.
“Our aging building, combined with the evolving needs of our guests, makes a relocation to a larger and new building critical to our role serving the larger community,” Brinkley told VCU News.
Brinkley said her organization has to turn away many potential patients and families because of a lack of space.
The Doorways’ hospitality house accommodates more than 50,000 nights of service that include lodging, meals and support to 10,000 children and adults on average each year. Almost 50% stay longer than a month, according to VCU Health.
The Ronald McDonald House Charities of Richmond, or RMHC Richmond, which provides support and housing for families with pediatric patients in the Richmond area. RMHC Richmond executive director Kerry Blumberg said in an email they also face the dilemma of turning families away.
Last year, 2,431 nights of care were provided by RMHC Richmond, and studies project that by 2025, 22,630 nights of care will be needed. In 2019, the average length of stay was 8.5 nights according to VCU Health.
Blumberg said a new facility would service 30-40 more pediatric patient families than the current nine that can be accommodated.
The new RMHC would include features such as immune-compromised suites, which are designed for patients with low immunity, as well as new community spaces and around 45 more sleep rooms. Blumberg said immune-compromised suites could provide specialized care to families as they go through the “biggest challenge of their lives.”
“Having immune compromised suites (think efficiency apartment) and expanded ADA compliant features will allow us to extend the reach of our mission and help a more diverse population of families, who are faced with a full range of pediatric acute and chronic illnesses,” Blumberg said.
The plan calls for an increase in space for The Doorways’ guest rooms, from 115 to 145 rooms, and for RMHC Richmond, from 14 to 60 rooms.
RMHC Richmond is located at 2330 Monument Ave. Close proximity to VCU Health would promote the psychological well-being of patient families and communication with doctors, Blumberg said.
Brinkley says this development would ensure that a large, diverse population can continually access medical care and advanced research in our community. He said Richmond will continue to rise in the ranks of cancer research, trials and treatment; bone marrow transplants; organ transplants; rehabilitation from traumatic injuries and more.
“When Richmond’s health care ratings rise, so does its ability to attract students, families, retirees and businesses to our community,” Brinkley said.
Porter said an estimated timeline for the project would be 36 months, and that it is too early in the process to estimate cost.
Richmond City Council voted on the Navy Hill proposal on Feb. 10 and rejected it with a 7-2 vote.
Blumberg said she looks forward to working with City Council and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney on the “Block D” proposal and has no idea what will be the main hurdle in garnering their support.
“We look forward to working on this project with city council and the mayor in the best interests of the city and region,” Blumberg said.