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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Phoenix looking to build structure in Martinsville

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A new multi-story building eventually could be in uptown Martinsville’s skyline.

Phoenix Community Development Corp. Executive Director Ray Gibbs on Monday confirmed that the nonprofit developer is looking to build such a structure. It would contain both apartments and offices, he said.

There have been discussions with several potential occupants, said Gibbs, who declined to name them.

Several locations are being considered. Gibbs declined to name them, too.

However, Interim City Manager Leon Towarnicki recently indicated one site as being a parking lot on Fayette Street across from The Sportsmen’s Club and adjacent to a building that would house a proposed medical school.

When told of Towarnicki’s remarks, Gibbs acknowledged that site is one of the locations being considered.

Blueprints have not yet been prepared, so he did not know how large the building would be, although he said he anticipates it being “pretty big.”

Gibbs estimated the building would cost more than $5 million. Efforts to get the project financed are “looking decent right now,” he said.

He said that while various partners could be involved in developing the building, Phoenix likely would be the managing partner.

Gibbs said his vagueness was due to plans for the building not having gone much past the idea stage and not wanting to say too much too soon out of fear of jinxing the project.

“We’re trying to put the details together,” Gibbs said of Phoenix and other potential partners.

He added that he hopes the project is far enough along in a month or two for him to make a presentation about it to Martinsville City Council.

Phoenix is involved in efforts to turn the former Henry Hotel uptown into an apartment complex. Those involved in the new multi-story project expect to see a demand for other new living spaces — as well as new office spaces — uptown, according to Gibbs.

But in developing the project, a lot of variables must be taken into account, he said. Examples he mentioned include growth and development of the New College Institute and the medical school and whether their students want to live close to the schools or commute to classes.

Gibbs also acknowledged that Martinsville and Henry County have vacant buildings that could be renovated.

Yet he said “a lot of existing buildings have limitations” on how they can be redeveloped and for what uses. That is based on factors such as how they originally were designed and built, how much money developers are willing to spend and how much rent potential tenants are willing to pay, he noted.

If a developer spends so much on a project that it will take 20 years to pay off the debt and a prospective tenant wants only a five-year lease, he said, ultimately “you’re stuck with a vacant building and a big bank note.”

Therefore, he understands why developers often are cautious about getting involved in projects, he said.

In considering where new residential and commercial spaces might be developed, “we (Phoenix) look to existing buildings first, and we probably always will,” but those buildings are not always suitable, he said.


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