Martha Jefferson redevelopment in line for tax debate

If something works the first time around, it seems logical to do it again. The same tax rebate program that gave Bill Atwood’s mixed-use Waterhouse on Water Street a necessary financial push will be used to redevelop the current Martha Jefferson Hospital site once the hospital relocates to Pantops in August.

Martha Jefferson Hospital’s Downtown campus could be the future site of a 100-room hotel, in addition to more than two dozen residential rentals, once the hospital relocates in August.

On February 22, City Council approved a resolution for the city to enter into a “performance agreement” with Octagon Partners, owner and developer of the hospital’s Downtown campus. The agreement carries a few hefty requirements.

The developer must secure no less than $40 million in new investments, create and maintain a minimum of 400 jobs with an average salary of $75,000, and complete redevelopment by January 1, 2016. If successful, then the developer will get back 50 percent of real property tax revenues that can be attributed to the project. City spokesman Ric Barrick says the city has not officially entered into a performance agreement yet.

“They will still pay the amount of taxes that that property is worth now,” says City Councilor Kristin Szakos. “We don’t lose anything. We are not giving away tax money, we are delaying the gain of tax money until they are well on their way.”

Aubrey Watts, director of the city’s Economic Development Authority, told Council in February that the incentive “will assist in securing a lead tenant, which will allow the entire site to be developed in a very short period of time, thereby reducing the impact on the neighborhood.”

The anchoring tenant will occupy about 140,000 square feet between the current hospital’s South Wing and the Patterson Building. Octagon founding partner J.P. Williamson told C-VILLE in late March that Octagon is “in discussion with several office users and several hotel operators.” At least one published report suggests that locally based CFA Institute, a nonprofit network of investors, is interested in the site. Octagon did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

According to a staff report and the Martha Jefferson Neighborhood Association (MJNA) newsletter, the hospital’s Rucker Building, which measures approximately 60,000 square feet, will be renovated and turned into about 30 residential rental units, with six serving as affordable housing rentals. The Cardwell Building could become a 100-room hotel or more commercial space.

Bruce Odell, former MJNA president, said via e-mail that the proposed plans seem “like a good balance.”

“Of course, Octagon’s plans seem to have evolved a bit over time, so MJNA will want to keep abreast of future modifications, if any.” Dialogue between the developer and the neighborhood, he added, has been “open, positive and transparent.”

Asked about traffic concerns, Odell said that the city expects traffic volume to decrease—by 6,500 trips per day once the project is finished, according to a city report.

“Under the developer’s present plans, there seems to be adequate parking on-site for the new tenants, which should alleviate pressure for on-street parking in the neighborhood, a sore point in the past,” said Odell. 

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