Local businesses and street level vitality in the NEON District could see a boost if a proposal for a large residential project comes to fruition.
You might know 117 W. VB Blvd as the abandoned-feeling warehouse behind Exotic Home; the property also abuts the Hurrah Players’ Hugh Copeland Center, and backs up to the Renova parking lot. Soon it could be the 48-unit Ghent Arts Apartments. (All images via Norfolk Planning.)
4-levels and coming in at nearly 30,000 square feet, this is big for the neighborhood, while not being outsize. As someone rooting for places like Zeke’s to succeed and grow, the thought of having 100 more people living in the NEON is exciting. So much work was put into turning Magazine Lane into an unexpected and truly special urban public art oasis; what a fun place for a front door to open up to.
From the documents presented to the City by the owner of the property, Thomas Morrisette, we learn that there are plans for a “community art gallery,” bay windows, and balconies.
Here’s the point where I hit pause on the good news for a minute: the early 20th-Century era urban/elegant structure currently at that location–long ago a car dealership, now with ivy reaching across one side, beautiful brick on another–would be torn down. From what has been explained to me by a City of Norfolk employee, this is within the owner’s rights. While the building is listed as a contributing building within the State/Federally designated Auto Row Historic District, there is no zoning preventing the demolition.
Personally, I have never met or spoken to Mr. Morrisette, which is saying something, given the amount of arts district meetings I have attended the last three years. He did not return my call and email for comment for this story; MorrisetteArchitecture.com isn’t very helpful.
While I am certainly not going to cast judgment of any sort just yet, I will state some concerns I have for any project in Downtown Norfolk of this nature: in a city where we’ve torn down a whole city worth of historical architecture, does this building absolutely have to be torn down for a redevelopment project to happen? Maybe I have a style bias, but I think the vast majority of new multi-family residential projects in Norfolk–and the whole region, really–tend to be somewhat…. charmless. Without calling out any projects in particular, I’m sure right now you can think of at least one or two prominent multi-family residential projects in this area that look they might fall over if you leaned on them too hard.
Particularly in a neighborhood featuring such top notch, elegant restorations like Work | Release and Glass Wheel Studio–not to mention the largest concentration of public art in any neighborhood from here to Richmond–it would be a shame if this new development looked like, well, your average new development in Hampton Roads.
But I remain optimistic about this project! Updates to come as I am able to reach involved parties.
Up next for the project is presenting to the Norfolk Planning Commission at an informal session, November 12th at noon on the 10th floor of City Hall.