Downtown growth gains momentum
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Oct 18, 2013, 14:50
CAITLIN DAVIS/HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Evan Kaufman, director of the Hopewell Downtown Partnership, talks with construction workers at 226 E. Broadway.
HOPEWELL — As the months continue to pass, Hopewell’s downtown continues on the road of revitalization.
Evan Kaufman, director of the Hopewell Downtown Partnership, says revitalization is a process, not an event. But in the coming weeks, a major milestone could take place when Kaufman learns if the partnership will be awarded a grant that could kickstart one of the biggest projects to come to downtown Hopewell in years.
At a City Council meeting Sept. 17, a resolution was passed to allow Kaufman to apply for an Industrial Revitalization Fund grant on behalf of the city, valued at close to $400,000. The grant will be used for the rehabilitation of the former Hopewell Furniture building, one of the largest on Broadway. The concept to bring new life to the building began months ago with the organization Capital Area Partnership Uplifting People and President and CEO Thomas Wagstaff.
“Me and Tom had been talking and talking about doing a project in Hopewell and it started out with some conversations,” Kaufman said. “And then we started looking at some properties which might be a good project.”
Kaufman is pleased with the partnership with CAPUP, an organization he said has been very involved with not only the city of Hopewell but with Richmond, Petersburg, Dinwiddie and Prince George. CAPUP is part of Community Action Agencies, which are nonprofit organizations, both local and private, that work with the Community Action Program. CAP was developed in the 1960s by the Economic Opportunity Act, developed to “fight poverty by empowering the poor as part of the War on Poverty.” In 2009, CAPUP was designated as Hopewell’s official community action agency.
After more discussions and visits to vacant properties, Kaufman brought Wagstaff to the former Hopewell Furniture building. He said that that building, if rehabbed, would make the most impact on the future of downtown Hopewell. Once a building was chosen, a business plan was formed for what should be put in the large, vacant space.
“We had talked about what he could do there and one of the things that has constantly come up in various focus groups that we’ve done through the downtown is a need for a coffee shop where people could hang out, maybe do some work, have some wifi access, have a cup of coffee.” Kaufman said.
In addition to the proposal for a coffee shop, Kaufman said Wagstaff continued to expand on the possible uses for the property. The other proposed use for the space would be an art gallery. There is no masking Kaufman’s excitement as he envisions the possible future for what he calls one of the most dilapidated buildings downtown.
“So it kind of was a union of a coffee shop and art gallery idea as a way to make this building stand out as an attraction not only local residents will enjoy ... but also tourists and people coming down to the Beacon will have another destination, a nice art place they might to come and see,” Kaufman said.
Kaufman said since part of CAPUP’s mission is “economic development and helping spur activity in areas that need it,” the space will not only be used for artwork, coffee and possibly pastries, but as a job training program as well. He said CAPUP has discussed training people for the service industry in positions such as management, inventory and barista work. Kaufman said the proposed job training program would get individuals started in the program at the coffee shop, art gallery, and then have them placed in the other service jobs in the area.
Kaufman said the possible rehab will also link the soon-to-be opened Beacon Theatre to East Broadway, which he said is the “main retail core” of the downtown. He said this possible rehabilitation will help develop the most “troubled section” of the downtown.
Once the partnership and the plan was formulated for the building, and the resolution was passed by council, Kaufman got to work applying for the IRF grant. The IRF grant, part of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, is geared toward “vacant industrial structure whose poor condition creates physical and economic blight to the surrounding area in which the structure is located,” according to the department’s webpage. The maximum that can be awarded for the grant is $600,000 and the grant requires a one-to-one match.
Kaufman said if the grant is awarded to Hopewell, it will be matched by other local organizations involved. He added the partnership will also be taking advantage of other tax incentives available to add to the project, such as historic tax credits, the Enterprise Zone grant and the local facade improvement grant.
“If it moves forward, it will be the largest investment in downtown since the Butterworth Lofts, that’s not local government money like the Beacon Theatre,” Kaufman said. “This wouldn’t require local tax dollars to do this project, which I think is important for people to see that other types of development can happen without local government having to foot the bill.”
With all the funding possibilities in place, the project has begun to take shape, including expanding to the alley next to the building. The plan also includes turning the alleyway into an art terrace or a sculpture garden.
“After we got all the costs back and worked on the pro-forma we found out it was economically feasible to do if we could get the IRF grant and we saw that the project was a $1 million project,” Kaufman said. “Which would make that building really kind of a crown jewel in downtown.”
Buildings get facelift
Though it has been a few weeks since Kaufman has submitted the application, it will still be a few more before any word is received on whether or not the grant will be awarded to the downtown partnership. Even if the grant is not awarded to the city, Kaufman said a large project will continue to take shape in the downtown.
CAITLIN DAVIS/HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT The old Hopewell Furniture building could become a coffee shop and gallery.
Despite this project being put on hold, other projects are taking shape in downtown Hopewell. Currently two building are getting a facelift, the former Rick’s TV Service building, 219 E. Broadway, and the former building that once housed Poe’s Antiques, 226 E. Broadway. Kaufman said the facade improvements to these two buildings have been needed for quite some time.
“These buildings are still sturdy but they definitely need a makeover because it’s been close to a 100 years, and through the decades these people have tried different facades and different things that were in style at the time,” Kaufman said. “And now it looks pretty bad because a lot of them haven’t changed in 30 or 40 years.”
Homer Eliades, of Eliades and Eliades in Hopewell, has owned the former Poe’s Antique building since inheriting it in 1972 after his father’s passing. He said the building has been a bowling alley, a hardware store and a printing shop. Over the years, he has replaced the roof several times, as well as put in other work toward the building’s upkeep.
“We want to make it just as attractive as we can and that’s my goal really,” Eliades said. “I think there could be a big improvement and I think Evan and the Hopewell Downtown group are doing a good job in trying to keep people involved and trying to do something with their property downtown and obviously we can see some movement downtown in that direction.”
Eliades, who is pleased with the proposed facade improvements to his building, says the upcoming changes to the downtown, such as the Beacon Theatre, helped move him to make the leap and bring a new face to the building.
“Once we get the Beacon open too, it’s going to be a shot in the arm for downtown,” Eliades said. “I think that will attract other businesses in the area of downtown. ... I see people more active, more interested and that certainly is heartening to know that we’re back and trying to rejuvenate our downtown.”
Rejuvenating the downtown has been Kaufman’s mission and passion since taking over as director last year. He is pleased to see the changes coming to downtown, such as the facade improvement and now the possibility of the $1 million renovation. Kaufman said this project will continue to build the spirit and momentum of the revitalization efforts.
“It’s a really great space for kind of a multi-use, multi-function building that we could do a lot of different things that the market would bear to really help energize the downtown and move the revitalization forward,” Kaufman said.
Kaufman is also looking to build a base of local or regional artists for the proposed project. Any local or regional artists who would be interested in becoming part of the project can email the Hopewell Downtown Partnership at email@example.com.