City closes sale of old Ramada Inn, jumpstarting Exit 52 Gateway project

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The old Ramada Inn in Petersburg on March 27, 2018. The building was just sold to C.A Harrison Companies LLC., who plans on restoring the hotel as part of a larger plan to redevelop the land off Exit 52. [John Adam/http://www.progress-index.com/news/20180330/city-closes-sale-of-old-ramada-inn-jumpstarting-exit-52-gateway-project]

With the selling of the old Ramada Inn at 380 E, Washington Street to C.A. Harrison Companies LLC, the project to reinvigorate the properties off Exit 52 can begin.

PETERSBURG — For several years now, the 100,000 cars that pass by Petersburg on I-95 each day have been treated to the sight of the old, abandoned Ramada Inn directly off Exit 52. Now, after almost a year of delays, Exit 52 is finally slated to begin its makeover.

On Friday, the city closed on the sale of the former Ramada Inn to Bethesda, Md. -based C.A. Harrison Companies LLC. The sale includes the Ramada building at 380 E. Washington Street, as well as the parcels of land at 326 and 400 E. Washington Street. The city closed the deal for $750,000.

“It will enhance the gateway to the city,” said Reggie Tabor, projects manager for Petersburg Economic Development. “It is really a reflection on the city, so once it’s developed, it will promote a positive image for Petersburg.”

The Ramada, which was most recently known as the Fort Lee Regency, has been shuttered for over five years. Many residents consider the decaying building an eyesore, with many of the outside windows broken or covered with graffiti.

Construction on the hotel was slated to begin last summer but was delayed several times as the city’s administration was undergoing changes. The funding for the project also had to be finalized.

“There were a lot of moving pieces with the city government, with a new administration coming in, and we had to line up the funding,” said Chris Harrison, founder and CEO of C.A. Harrison. “Now all of that is in place.”

The hotel is just one part of a larger plan to redevelop the land next to the highway as a special gateway into the city. In addition to restoring the hotel, C.A Harrison will eventually add space for retail and apartments.

“Because it’s such a visible location, we anticipate that potential investors will pass the site and see that things are going on, or will hear about the development,” said Tabor.

Tabor noted that the construction and subsequent opening of the hotel will bring jobs to the area. The city and Harrison have also been in talks with Virginia State University about a special hospitality training program once the hotel opens.

 

C.A. Harrison plans on putting around $20 million into the whole Exit 52 project, though Harrison noted he is still finalizing the budget. The project has received assistance through several state grants, including a $350,000 grant from Virginia Brownfields Restoration and Economic Redevelopment Assistance Fund Site Remediation, and $600,000 through Virginia’s Industrial Revitalization Fund.

Harrison, who frequently passed by Petersburg during his trips to oversee a successful $54 million redevelopment project in Winston-Salem, N.C., called the project a “no brainer.”

“My drive coming back from North Carolina, you always see [the hotel], and I always thought about it when I passed it,” he said.

Harrison said the project is now full steam ahead, with interior demolition of the hotel to begin next week. Though there is no timetable for the project, Tabor said it will probably be completed around 18 to 24 months from now.

″[The properties] are very important parts of the revitalizing efforts in the city,” said Tabor.

If things go according to plan, Exit 52 could look a lot different in 18 to 24 months.

The Cameron Foundation has put forth a plan to redo the Washington Street bridge that goes over I-95, adorning it with decorative lights and wave-shaped sculptures. The old Broadway Inn and Suites, which was directly across the street from the old Ramada, was demolished last week. Tabor noted that the owner plans on redoing the property into “something that will be attractive” like hospitality or retail.

 

“I look at the city as a diamond in the rough,” said Harrison. “It’s got a lot of charm and history. It had a bad time in the past, so now is a time for a renaissance, and I think it begins with the construction of this hotel.”

The selling of the Ramada property will also bring in some much-needed cash flow to the city, which is still recovering from its financial difficulties. City Manager Aretha Ferrell Benavides has said that it is a goal of her administration to sell many of the 300-plus pieces of city-owned real estate.

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An architect’s rendering shows planned redevelopment around the former Ramada Inn on East Washington Street in Petersburg. [Commonwealth Architects, File/Contributed Photo]