Business

Two groups vie for old BoA branch in Northside RVA

The former Bank of America branch at 1307 E. Brookland Park Blvd., which the banking giant vacated four years ago. 

By Michael Schwartz

(RBiz) – The effort to reinvent the old Bank of America building in the Six Points area of Highland Park continues, with two local groups emerging as the respondents to a recent RFP issued by the property’s owner, the Richmond Land Bank.

Vying for the long-dormant branch at 1307 E. Brookland Park Blvd. is HandUp Community Resource Center, which has pitched an idea for a community health resource center and pharmacy, while Bantu Global Commodities aims to convert the building into restaurant and community market concept.

The two groups now await a meeting of the Land Bank’s citizen’s advisory panel on Nov. 3, where it’s expected to make a recommendation for the winning bid. Then the board of the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust, the nonprofit that administers the Land Bank, will ultimately choose the final end user and enter into a development agreement on Nov. 15.

The road toward an RFP to repurpose the 4,800-square-foot building began when Bank of America closed the branch in early 2017, much to the chagrin of some in the neighborhood.

An aerial photo of the former Bank of America building along the Six Points roundabout. (Courtesy of Maggie Walker Community Land Trust)

The banking giant then donated the property, which sits along the Six Points roundabout, to the land bank in 2019.

Determined to let the community have a say in the building’s fate, the Land Bank started the process by soliciting feedback from neighbors for suggestions on what sort of commercial use would fit best in the neighborhood.

Suggestions included a grocery store or farmer’s market, a restaurant, coffee shop, cafe or bakery, a community center, or a doctor’s office.

An RFP was formally issued on June 4, with responses due Aug. 2. In addition to pitching a new use for the property, respondents must agree to purchase the building. The adjacent parking lot would be retained in perpetuity by the land trust.

Julia MacNelly, program director for the Land Bank and MWCLT, said HandUp and Bantu were the only two respondents to submit formal, complete proposals. She said at one point there were around 10 interested parties but the two finalists are the only two who saw the process all the way through.

Bantu Global Commodities, a two-year-old organization run by Richmonder Tyrell Junius, is pitching a community space, grocery market, restaurant, events venue, and farmer’s market dubbed The Vault.

The Vault would aim to Northside youth and young adults involved in its programs and for employment, while being a source of healthy food choices for the surrounding neighborhoods.

“The Vault is interested in this opportunity for the chance to bring healthier lifestyles, economic growth, and personal empowerment to the Northside community,” the group stated in its RFP submission.

Bantu is competing against HandUp Community Resource Center, a Southside-based nonprofit organization that runs a food pantry off Midlothian Turnpike, veterans assistance and housing programs, among other efforts.

Its pitch is to convert the bank building into The Health Hub, a community clinic and pharmacy. Led by Augusta Hite, the group HandUp also would look to offer food pantry services and a farmers market in the property’s large parking lot.

“The Health Hub offers and will continue to develop a range of healthcare services for the underserved throughout Highland Park and surrounding communities,” HandUp’s submission states.

As for proposed purchase prices, the RFP emphasizes that the building is assessed at $212,000 and that “applicants are encouraged to bid competitively.”

The Bantu group disclosed that it would pay $275,000 for the property. HandUp’s proposal pitched a purchase price of $121,000.

Both groups expect to spend around $60,000 on renovations and both plan to incorporate the bank’s vault into their plans.

As to how the ultimate decision might play out on Nov. 3, MacNelly the Land Bank and the applicants have had ongoing communication to address questions and comments related to their pitches.

She said continued tweaks of the business plans are likely even after the Nov. 3 meeting, as the board of the Land Bank and MWCLT continue to vet the applications.

MacNelly emphasized that the Land Bank’s citizens advisory panel continues to take into account public comments on both proposals. She said citizens are welcome to send in additional comments ahead of and during the Nov. 3 meeting.

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