VCU plans to turn Grace Street into a campus “main street”: What could that look like?

‘For Lease’ signs on vacant buildings along Grace Street. VCU is planning to turn Grace Street into a “campus main street” as part of the One VCU Master Plan. Photo by Arrick Wilson.

Andrew Kerley, Audience Editor

VCU wants to turn West Grace Street into a campus “main street,” according to the ONE VCU Master Plan, the document guiding VCU’s physical development for the next decade.

The ONE VCU Master Plan was approved by the board of visitors nearly five years ago, according to its website.

The plan included the Children’s Tower downtown and the STEM building on Franklin Street, both completed in 2023.

VCU now plans to build more academic spaces and student housing on both ends of the corridor, as outlined by the plan. Additionally, the street will be lined with “small pocket parks” and “furnishings to encourage informal gathering and outdoor dining.”

Every two years, the board of visitors updates VCU’s Six-Year Capital Plan, which highlights projects proposed by the master plan to focus on in the coming biennium. The most recent plan, approved last year, noted prioritization for new housing on the 900 block of West Grace Street, a new Honors College dorm and a new “interdisciplinary arts and education building,” which will be located where the old Honors building currently sits.

VCU spokesperson Michael Porter said none of the projects have been initiated, though the plan’s website shows the new Honors College Dorm to be the furthest along. The dorm is in the pre-planning phase and its construction could be completed in fall 2026.

“Please note that although all prioritized projects will be examined and considered, not all will move forward,” the Six-Year Capital Plan reads. “Timelines are optimistic and approximate, and projects may take longer to complete. This plan is revised and updated based on progress and new information every two years.”

Additionally, VCU does not own any of the properties along the 900 block where they intend to build housing, according to Porter.

Multiple properties along the street, not owned by VCU, appear to be abandoned or not in use, including the musically historic building where the venue “Strange Matter” used to be. Others, like 931 W. Grace St., have “up for lease” signs in their windows.

Gabriel Gotera has been living in the area for years and works at multiple restaurants along the corridor. He said the “big fear around the block” is that VCU will buy up all the businesses and raise the cost of rent.

“VCU brings in a lot of business,” Gotera said. “But, in the off-season when students go home, it’s bad.”

Last year, VCU bought two properties along West Grace Street, one of them containing the local bar and music venue Ipanema Cafe, according to a previous report by The Commonwealth Times. VCU Real Estate Foundation said they are assessing the buildings for the university’s needs.

Seth Campbell, the owner of Ipanema Cafe, told The Commonwealth Times they do not expect the cafe to leave the location any time soon, adding that he “loves seeing students come there and having fun.”

Nisha Chundevalel and Mya Jackson, both undergraduate students, said they enjoy going to West Grace Street to get food and shop, but it isn’t their ideal place to hang out.

“I feel like there are a lot of VCU places here already and the local spots are really fun to go to here and there,” Chundevalel said. “There’s also the swipe system so it’s like, ‘I don’t wanna spend money, I need to go to a VCU place.’”

Jackson said that she’d like the street to have more “easy sitdown spots,” something VCU included in their plan.

“I like being around the regular business too,” Jackson said. “Y’know, seeing the people who live here.”

“Chill Will,” a local resident, has regularly sat at the bar in Village Cafe for 25 years. He said he prefers West Grace Street the way it is now as opposed to two decades ago.

“It’s mostly a college community right now,” Will said. “At one point there was a biker’s club and a lot of bars, radical bars.”

Will said the street doesn’t need any “wild bars” or “radical groups” to be great.

“We can make a change, but let’s not forget about the elders,” Will said. “Look out for those that can no longer make a change.”

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