Everything you need to know: The forthcoming, Publix-anchored Carytown Exchange development

Everything you need to know: The forthcoming, Publix-anchored Carytown Exchange development

A massive project in Carytown will see the redevelopment of an entire city block, the return of pedestrian-scale shops to W. Cary Street, and the addition of a 49,000-square-foot Publix grocery store. Here’s a complete breakdown of everything you need to know.

Renderings: Regency Centers

Plans for a new proposed shopping center built to replace the aging Richmond Shopping Center in Carytown were unveiled today at the former Martin’s (and before that, Ukrop’s) store that originally anchored the center.

Regency Centers, a Florida-based developer, is working with the Goodwyn family, owners of the current development, on plans for a shopping center anchored by Publix that would feature single-story shops facing West Cary Street and a two-story parking deck to the rear.

The project is bound by Ellwood Avenue on the north, West Cary Street on the south, Nansemond Street on the east, and Thompson Street on the west and sits at what’s known as the “top” of Carytown, the area’s–largely local–shopping district.

Negotiations with Publix are reportedly in their final stages, and pre-leasing will soon begin on the center.

The look, feel, and scale of the development

According to a website outlining the developers’ plans, Regency Centers aimed to be careful to fit into Carytown and maintain the fabric of the historic shopping and dining district.

“Carytown Exchange is unique because it is not a typical ‘shopping center’ with a vehicular focus like you see in suburban America,” an FAQ section on the website explains. “This project will feature streetfront buildings that reflect the Carytown neighborhood while offering a great grocery experience. The design will feature various storefronts and outdoor seating areas to continue the one-of-a-kind feel and character of the neighborhood.”

“This project will reflect the charm and character of Carytown along Cary Street,” the spokesperson continued. “The design will bring the buildings up to the sidewalks in order to engage pedestrians. The architecture will be more in keeping with the eclectic nature of Carytown celebrating is smaller scale and love of colors.”

Chris Whidmyer, Vice President of Regency Centers, echoed this sentiment at a press preview event regarding Carytown Place Tuesday afternoon, saying he envisions a “multi-generational” project that blends in with its surroundings both at its inception and over time.

Regency Centers Vice President Chris Whidmyer walks RVAHub through a media preview Tuesday afternoon at the former Martin’s store (Trevor Dickerson/RVAHub)

“When you have a new building you can’t create patina,” Whidmyer said. “But what you can do is create a building on the same scale as what is down the street so that, in time, it will reflect the patina of the neighborhood.”

To that point, the single-story buildings facing Cary would all be unique in scale and architecture according to renderings, much like the existing stock of retail storefronts in Carytown.

Development of the $40 million Carytown Exchange would begin later this year, with the first tenants moving into the newly-built buildings in 2020, with the rest to follow in 2021.

The center will encompass 120,000 square feet; Publix’s building will be 49,000 square feet; the remaining tenants will share approximately 71,000 square feet, with most coming in around 1,200 square feet in size. The proposed development is approximately 20,000 square feet larger than the existing shopping center.

Carytown Exchange will likely have a well-rounded mix of local, regional, and national tenants, Whidmyer said. When asked if his team would put an extra emphasis on local retailers and restaurants, given Carytown’s history of both, he said having locally-based Thalhimer Commercial Realty handle the leasing would potentially lend itself to more Richmond-based leasing deals.

The sloping grade of the land will allow several unique characteristics to take shape in this development.

First, buildings facing West Cary Street will blend into neighboring structures and retain their own style; buildings to the rear of the property facing Ellwood Avenue will line up more, architecturally, with the nearby Carytown Place development that houses The Fresh Market, Petco, Chipotle, Panera, and Hand and Stone Massage, Whidmyer said.

Secondly, a proposed 500-car, two-story parking garage would not be visible from West Cary Street, as its highest point would be on grade with the road. The façades of the buildings would obscure the concrete entirely, as viewed from most angles. Currently, surface parking covers a majority of the property’s Cary Street frontage, which would be replaced by the proposed buildings.

The current Richmond Shopping Center (Trevor Dickerson/RVAHub)

Who stays, who goes, and what about the “Toll House?”

The only building in the current shopping center that will remain, according to Regency Centers, is the CVS Pharmacy at Ellwood Avenue and Thompson Street. It will remain in operation during construction. The Union Bank & Trust site at the opposite corner of the development does not appear to be part of the plan.

Surprisingly, the developers say Carytown Burgers & Fries, with whom owners have been negotiating on their current space, does not have plans to remain in the development, in a new building.

To that point, perhaps an even more surprising discovery. Carytown Burgers & Fries’ building, claimed by many to be a nearly 200-year-old toll keeper’s house along what was then the Westham Plank Road, was discovered not to be what many had thought it was.

While the building is certainly old–and perhaps the oldest building by far in Carytown or surrounding communities–it is merely an old, circa 1840s farmhouse that was constructed facing Cary Street when the land was used for agriculture purposes.

The farmhouse mislabeled as the Carytown Toll Taker’s House (Richmond Times-Dispatch Archives)

Developers, no doubt spurred on by pleas from the public to save it from the bulldozer, consulted local experts and resources and ultimately determined that the structure was neither a toll house, nor would it be feasible to save it.

A board displays findings on the history of what was believed to be the Carytown Toll Taker’s House (Trevor Dickerson/RVAHub)

“The building, located at 3500 ½ West Cary Street, has incorrectly been referred to as the ‘Toll House,’ purportedly serving a mid-nineteenth century toll road on what is now Cary Street,” developers said. “Bob Mills, a Richmond architect with specific expertise in historical Richmond architecture; Dutton & Associates, historical consultants; and other experts recently completed a comprehensive assessment of the building.”

Even the Richmond Times-Dispatch incorrectly referred to it as such.

The experts poured through records from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, U.S. Geological Survey, Virginia Cultural Resource Information System Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, Richmond Property Assessors Records, area historical societies, and library archives to learn more about the structure.

An 1853 map shows the farmhouse near the toll road, but the “toll gate” was to the east with another unlabeled dwelling. The toll gate itself was approximately 7 blocks to the east. The Trail of the Three Notched Road, a 1929 book written by M. Ethel Kelley Kern, suggested that the farmhouse was the Toll House and is likely the impetus for the local lore, as it was cited in later local newspaper stories, but these stories were without a primary source citation.

“The building was converted into commercial use in the 1930’s; the buildings enveloping it now were erected in the 1960s and 1970s,” the website continues. “Significant modifications to the original historic exterior have been made over time, leaving the building largely obscured by modern additions and alterations. In fact, what is now the front entrance to Carytown Burgers & Fries was formerly the basement and rear of the building – its original front, facing West Cary Street, was stripped off in the 1960’s. On the interior, little is left of the original architectural fabric. These significant alterations are likely irreversible.

So, there you have it. The building will be demolished but, unfortunately, not much of its original fabric remains intact to save.

Construction timeline and traffic patterns

A focus of the design is to reduce the number of access points to the project to improve safety along Cary and Ellwood Streets, Regency says. “Currently there are ten total access points to the center, including the grocery store loading dock which trucks have to back into directly off of Ellwood. After the redevelopment, the number of access points will be reduced to six access points and the grocery loading will be internal to the project.”

During construction, the parking lane on the south side of Ellwood Avenue will be closed to parking.

A construction timeline has not yet been decided, but the development and demolition will take place in phases.

Community meeting

Regency Centers will host a community meeting tonight from 7:00 until 8:30 PM to talk with area residents and business owners about the plans.

The meeting will be held in the former Martin’s building. Developers will be on hand to answer any and all questions, and City Councilman Parker Agelasto will also be in attendance. It all takes place Tuesday, May 8th from 7:00 to 8:30 PM. The Richmond Shopping Center is located at 3522 W. Cary Street.

Renderings and site plans





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Trevor Dickerson is the co-founder and editor of RVAhub.com, lover of all things Richmond, and a master of karate and friendship for everyone.