“I had been eyeing the site for over a decade,” says Jeremy Connell, Lead Developer and owner of Pareto, LLC. “It just seemed like an incredible site for residential development.”
“Its funny how many times some of the best development opportunities are hidden in plain sight,” remarked Mario DiMarco, Lead Architect and part of the development team. “Not only were the views spectacular, the underlying zoning allowed us great latitude in creating the project we all wanted to create.”
“When we were approached about representing the property, we were obviously thrilled,” quoted Patrick Sullivan with One South Realty and member of the Manchester Alliance. “The opportunity to not only act as the spokesperson for the project, but to have worked with the developers from day one on many of the selections and features is a great honor. And to the developer’s credit, they asked us for a lot of input and I think took what we suggested to heart.”
“Representing infill is different,” said Rick Jarvis, Founder of One South and part of the brokerage team, “And when you are talking about such a unique project as 7 West, there are a lot of moving parts and a lot of choices that need to be vetted. This has been a great team to work with from get-go.”
The Back Story
The 7 West is site is just over an acre, located where Semmes Avenue and 7th Street intersect at the base of the Manchester Bridge. For decades, it had been nothing more than a squat and nondescript cinderblock warehouse, slowly being overtaken with foliage.
“When we approached the sellers with an offer, we really didn’t have anywhere near a final vision of what we wanted to do, “said Connell. “All we knew was that the opportunities were many and the views were superior. With any good development, the site really tells you what it wants to be, if you take the time to listen.”
“We tossed around a lot of different ideas for the site, from a tower to a mixed use project to more apartments. At the end of each session, private ownership in the form of town homes kept emerging as not only the best idea, but the one we all felt most passionate about,” said DiMarco. “And the fact that we all saw the development taking form with a modern aesthetic, walls of glass, an abundance of outdoor space — including large roof decks — really allowed the architectural design process to move quickly and with purpose.”
One of the interesting facts about the site is that one of Richmond’s most well known artists used the property for years as his studio.
Known for his street art and wall murals as well as his colorful interpretations of many of Richmond’s most recognizable landmarks, Ed’s art can be found in a variety of places — from the sides of buildings throughout the Fan, Church Hill and Jackson Ward, to anchoring private collections in living rooms and offices throughout RVA. Several of Ed’s commissions can even be found in multiple Fortune 500 headquarters along the East Coast.
And you can find his artwork in the living spaces of the renderings for 7 West.
For more information on Ed and his art, visit EdTrask.com.
“The market has been asking for ownership opportunities for the last 5 years or more,”remarked Jarvis. “After the bubble burst in 2007 and mortgage market fundamentally changed, the development community supplied Downtown Richmond one apartment project after another and of increasingly smaller and smaller unit sizes. I think that the success of the Citizen 6 project in the Fan changed developer’s perceptions about new infill housing, especially upscale and modern infill housing, and raised a lot of eyebrows. When Jeremy and Mario told us they had secured the site and were considering a For Sale product, we were ecstatic.”
“Much of the inspiration for 7 West came from a biking expedition I took to the Netherlands,” remarked Connell. “The vertical nature of the properties there, along with plentiful glass is a hallmark of their residential, especially their urban residential, design. It makes for intelligent land use and promotes walkable amenities.”
“We borrowed from a lot of different avant-garde schools of thought,” commented DiMarco. “We knew we wanted to have connectivity from the inside to the outside and we wanted a vertical product to take advantage of the incredible site lines provided by this location. But we also knew that we wanted to give the property the right scale, correct density and the best relationship to the overall Manchester community. We felt that was important.”
“You have to have an overriding philosophy in and development otherwise you end up with a hodgepodge collection of half-baked thoughts and conflicting design elements,” said DiMarco. “You have to have structure to your thoughts.”
“We asked ourselves ‘if 7 West was sitting in this meeting, what would it want to be?’ and then we went from there,” added Connell. “Once we decided we got comfortable with the features, the direction became obvious.”
“We devised a set of goals for 7 West to help drive the thousands of decisions development requires,” continued DiMarco:
- Take maximum advantage of the views
- Provide connectivity with the outdoors
- Embrace the historic industrial nature of Manchester
- Blend the authenticity of industrial design with modern residential architecture
- Provide a decidedly upscale level of finish for the resident as a standard
“We wanted to know that when the project is done, we built something that would resonate for a long time … and we feel that 7 West does exactly that.”
“No development site is perfect, every piece has challenges,” noted DiMarco. “The one-way nature of the streets that bring you to the site, along with the abandoned node of 6th Street, presented some unique obstacles for us to overcome. The goal was to balance the density we wanted along with automobile access and providing green space. Shoehorning in even one too many homes would destroy the long term enjoyment for the residents and create ingress/egress issues. We didn’t want to do that.”
“Agreed,” commented Connell. “Being able to bring residents in and out easily and not require them to leave via the Manchester Bridge when they want to stay south of the river took some thought, but we were able to create a great in/out design without artificially impacting the nature of the site.
“And anytime you involve working with the City to find a fair solution to a scenario such as an abandoned alleyway or undeveloped street — like W 6th Street — it requires some negotiation with an entity not always known for their vision or flexibility. Luckily, the City of Richmond understood the issues and were in agreement about the best way to handle them,” continued Connell. “Often times, that is not the case.”
A Team Effort
“We have all worked together in some capacity for years,” said Connell. “Selecting the team was one of the easiest parts of the project. Mario and I had done several successful projects together prior to 7 West and knew each other’s language. We didn’t have a lot of missed steps and we didn’t have a lot of wasted efforts … that is important in any developer/architect relationship.”
“I had also worked with Patrick (Sullivan) and Rick (Jarvis) of One South for many years,” commented Connell. “We’ve had numerous conversations over the years about what the market needed. Much of the analysis that went into 7 West about size, scope, unit mix, features pricing and absorption had been done on other projects that never went forward. I think we all felt comfortable with 7 West, largely because of the research and analysis on prior opportunities. So when it came time to pick our sales team, they were the obvious choice.”
“I think that is true,” added Jarvis. “We had a great working relationship that had grown over many discussions about what the next project should be. And our firm focuses on bringing actual and anecdotal intel to the table to help guide decisions. Having represented many of Richmond’s infill development meant we are able to bring a wealth of experience to the table. At the end of the day, developers take greater risks than anyone realizes and being able to offer them the correct data upon which to base their decisions is pretty key.”
“And as a fan of all things Downtown, especially Manchester, I am especially excited about the impact on the neighborhood,” commented Sullivan. The next generation of Richmond is looking for housing and not just the centuries old housing that can be found in the Fan, Museum District and Church Hill. New architectural influences are healthy and diversity in design will serve our city well. I am happy to see 7 West coming online and I hope it not only spurs additional development in Manchester, but in all of Richmond.”