Twelve developers vying to get their hands on GRTC’s abandoned bus depot

by | Jul 10, 2015 | POLITICS

Come September, the fate of GRTC’s abandoned former bus depot on South Davis Avenue could fall in the hands of one of 12 companies that submitted proposals for t

Come September, the fate of GRTC’s abandoned former bus depot on South Davis Avenue could fall in the hands of one of 12 companies that submitted proposals for the property June 8.

The public transportation provider has been cleaning up the property for the last few years and at the end of May, issued a request for proposals to sell it. Now that bids are in, the
community and eager developers must play the waiting game.

The 12 companies looking to get their hands on the former bus depot were a mix of local developers and companies based in other states.

The list of potential owners GRTC released includes Greenberg Gibbons, Commonwealth Properties, Barong Real Estate Associates, Blackwood Development Company, Inc, CaryTown Development Partners, CK-Klein MacFarlane Limited Partnership, DKJ Richmond, Historic Housing, LLC Kotarides Developers, LLC, Miller and Smith Land, Inc, Trammell Crow Company and The Wilton Companies.

Six board members of GRTC will decide who gets the property, and a contract for the property is scheduled to be signed by Sept. 18.

Carrie Rose Pace, Public Relations Manager for GRTC said in an email that GRTC will not release any information in the proposals until the board has made a decision.

GRTC has been associated with the site, at 101 S. Davis Ave., since 1973. It was used as a maintenance facility for electric trolleys and then buses from 1903 to 2010, when GRTC moved its bus operations facility to a new location on Belt Boulevard.

The former depot has nine buildings including an administration building, repair shops, a facility maintenance building, steam cleaning shop, two bus barns, a paint and body shop, and a hazardous materials shed totaling about 121,000 square feet.

The 6.8 acres of land has been highly sought after by developers as it’s zoned for mixed use, but because of pollution, fuel and other contaminants that seeped into the soil, plans to revitalize it were at a standstill up until 2012.

Page said the site has undergone an “environmental remediation,” since 2012 as part of GRTC’s Corrective Action Plan (CAP), which was written by engineering firm Gannett Fleming, to clean it up. The cleanup process had to meet The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s regulations before anything could be done with the former depot.

“Because it was a bus depot it had chemicals and diesel and other fluids that would be a normal part of operating a bus depot, they wanted to make sure that anything that leaked at any point and time underwent the proper remediation,” she said. “The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality generally requires a three-year process.”

During a walk-through of the GRTC property earlier this, Stephen McNally, GRTC’s project administrator explained the conditions to prospective bidders. At the time of initial clean up, 40,000 gallons of pollutants had leaked underground, which mainly consisted of hydraulic fluid and motor oil according to McNally.

McNally added GRTC also developed the CAP plan to preserve the property for the future owners which is why the cleanup has been a lengthy process.

“We couldn’t go in and do an invasive removal, it would be destructive to the buildings so we’re trying to protect the historical resource for future opportunities for developers to utilize the potential for historical tax credits, so we had to develop a more passive method for recovery of that product,” he said.

Eight underground storage tanks and ten aboveground storage tanks were closed at the site in 2012, according to GRTC’s RFP plan along with 13 hydraulic lift systems, a gas dispenser, three diesel fuel dispensers and a number of other items were also removed from the depot.

McNally said that GRTC estimated initially the entire process would cost $2-3 million, but actual costs came in way below.

Costs to remove the underground storage tanks totaled $232,471 and the entire cost for the environmental remediation cost $295,398.

Pace said GRTC paid for the cleanup from its operational budget and so far DEQ has reimbursed GRTC $210,657 for the environmental remediation project. She added that after two appraisals were done by Lester Barber and Associates and Colliers International in the spring the former bus depot property is valued at $7 million.

McNally said GRTC expects what’s left of the cleanup to be completed by Nov. 1 2015.

A large crowd came out for the walk-through of the property last month.

Kelley Davis, a business development manager for furniture manufacturer Gunsmoke, was among those at the walk-through. She’s lived on South Davis Avenue for 22 years and has deep concerns for the fate of the depot.

“We do have a serious parking issue in this quadrant,” Davis said. “There are 19 bars and restaurants within a four-block radius and most do not have any parking accommodations for approximately 1000 patrons and employees. We don’t have off street parking on our side of South Davis, so it becomes a huge issue to find parking near our home Thursday through Sunday.”

Davis is hoping to see a parking deck constructed at the former depot.

“When the GRTC property is developed it would be imperative to incorporate a multi-level parking facility that would service the neighborhood and patrons {and} employees for the surrounding restaurants,” she said. “Similar to the deck in Carytown behind the Byrd Theatre.”

She also had a few other suggestions for the space.

“A mix of residential and retail to include a small organic natural market similar to Harvest or Union Market would be welcome,” she said.

But while Davis wants to see a major overhaul, she said she hopes whoever ends up with the property keeps at least some of the original buildings and design intact.

“We would like to see an upscale development that would hopefully incorporate the use of some of the existing on site materials and buildings in their design,” she said. “It would be a tragedy for someone to come in and bulldoze the history that has been there for over 100 years.”

Larkin Garbee, founder of creative co-working space 804RVA and her company were also among those checking out the spot.

She started a petition last year in hopes of swaying Mayor Dwight Jones into turning the depot into a “creative class village,” for entrepreneurs and others to collaborate. The petition currently has 1,179 signatures.

Some police and rescue vehicles and GRTC busses are still stored there temporarily, but since GRTC has moved, the dilapidated site had some life breathed back into it with the RVA Street Art Festival in 2013.

Murals are still plastered along the Cary Street wall and all over the property. GRTC also opens the facility by request for special events and community gatherings, most recently Secretly Y’all’s first bike festival last month.

Walker Wood, co-owner of clothing company New Normal, told RVA Magazine at Secretly Y’all’s bike festival June 13 she’d like to see the depot turned into a farmer’s market or flea market.

“It could not only be produce, it could be really an artists’ market,” she said.

“Charlottesville did this recent thing called fleaVILLE, where they took this old abandoned lot like this and made it a flea market of local artists, and that happens once a month.”

A few other festival goers stressed they wanted something to appear there, as long as it wasn’t a Walmart or other large corporation or chain.

Pace said the board of directors will be able to discuss their decision by Sept. 15 so stay tuned for a follow up story on the fate of the GRTC’s former bus depot.

Amy David

Amy David

Amy David was the Web Editor for from May 2015 until September 2018. She covered craft beer, food, music, art and more. She's been a journalist since 2010 and attended Radford University. She enjoys dogs, beer, tacos, and Bob's Burgers references.

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