A look at actor Wendell Pierce’s downtown Richmond development plans: 400 housing units, new businesses

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Actor Wendell Pierce, known for his role in The Wire, and his real estate partners are planning to develop 400 housing units and 70,000 square feet of retail business space in downtown Richmond.

Amanda Elliott, executive director of Richmond Main Street Initiative (RMSI), who’s working with Pierce on the investment, expects “thousands more people” to move to downtown in the next two years. “We want this to be the type of project that will be a model for all of the Bay Area in terms of development,” she said.

The main project will be built on two blocks of Macdonald Avenue, between 11th and 13th streets, which will provide 60,000 square feet for retail.

Plans also include 400 units of housing, with both market and affordable rates, according to Elliott, who said that the housing-retail project is expected to break ground with construction in 2019 and finish by 2020.

They also plan to build a co-working space on Macdonald Avenue and 15th Street, current site of a retail space underneath the BART garage. This existing, raw 10,000-square-feet space will be developed into a co-working business incubator, coffee shop and another food-related business by 2018, Elliott said.

She pointed out that the co-working space, CoBiz, will be used by Richmond residents as well as others from neighboring communities seeking a temporary space to work. It will also have anchor tenants, offer membership plans and serve as a community gathering space.

“The idea is to activate Macdonald Avenue,” Elliott said.

Elliott didn’t estimate how many new jobs this project would offer Richmond residents, but she said there will be opportunities for construction work and “a number of jobs connected to all of these new businesses that will open.”

Pierce is working with multiple organizations on the project. His real estate partnership, Ernst Valery Investments Corp., had successfully invested in several real estate projects in Washington, D.C.. and Baltimore, Maryland.

The decision to invest in downtown Richmond was announced by Pierce in late August on Twitter, where he called Richmond “an East Bay jewel.”

EVI is responsible for design and construction, and Elliott said they are currently in final stages of approval with the city to purchase all of the land, which will happen in the next couple of months.

RMSI would later bring in communities and small businesses to discuss the needs of local residents to “help existing business to stay and grow, and make sure the incoming progress will support local residents and stakeholders,” she said.

Elliott believed one of reasons that Pierce chose to invest in Richmond is because “they want to serve communities that have been under served.”

22 Comments

  1. Jim Becker

    Please note that Ernst Valery is the real visionary on this project. It was his vision that brought other investors to Richmond

  2. Tek Sandoval

    My hope is that the projects will be architecutrally siginificant. So much of downtown Richmond’s architectural legacy was destroyed in the urban renewal madness. The buildings built after the 60s are horrible travesties. Richmond deserves beautiful, crafted buildings. We’ll be watching.

    • John

      I agree that architectural significance would be great. I’m also hoping for a design that’s more pedestrian and community friendly than most of what’s been built in downtown in the last 50 years. The travesty of urban renewal was not just the loss of historic architecture but also the destruction of the city’s street grid and pedestrian scale.

      Super-block developments like the social security building, the Walgreens center, and even Kaiser totally disrupt the fabric of the community and belong in soulless suburbs like Walnut Creek not in the urban core.

      Some of the initial concepts for this project have suggested abandoning 12th street between Macdonald and Nevin. I really hope that doesn’t end up in the final design.

      • Commenter

        Completely agree with the above statements. The plan to redevelop downtown from the 1960’s to the present has been the exact same plan one would have used to ensure its failure. Even though I hope that things can turn around downtown, it’s hard to see how all the poor planning can be overcome at this point. Many people like to blame Hilltop for the downtown decline. Few remember that most of the downtown was levelled to the ground by 1970 guaranteeing its continuing decline.

        • Tek Sandoval

          With the encouraging news of downtown development, it’s all but impossible to figure out why the UPS is abandoning it’s historic structure on Nevin. If I understand it correctly there is too much underutilized space?? Then why not move the operations from the McVittie Annex to downtown? Go figure. And what happened to the historic murals that were discovered in the PO basement several years ago?

  3. Commenter

    Tek Sandoval,
    I think the mural is currently being restored. Where it will go now I do not know. If I recall correctly, the USPS is under a lot of pressure from Congress to be profitable and fund their pension fund 75 years into the future. This has led them to make the sort of decisions like they have here in Richmond all over the country, unfortunately. The ugly McVittie building I think has more space and also has a lot more parking for their vehicles, it includes the lot or two across the street as well. The recent decision to start the annexation process for North Richmond is a bad idea financially, but a good one for all the people involved. Unfortunately the USPS no longer thinks this way, what a shame.

  4. Jaime Ochoa

    Wow I am wondering if renewable energy is in the works? It be great to put solar on these buildings.

  5. Amy L Keyishian

    I’m stoked for that co-working space!

    • Commenter

      Nice to see this kind of enthusiasm for something in the downtown. The BART garage is actually the nicest building built in the downtown since redevelopement began in my opinion. It will be wonderful to see the ground floor full of people doing business and enjoying a nice cup of coffee.

  6. The prospect of co-working in my own community is exciting. I’m looking forward to it!

  7. Dave Thompson

    While I see it’s got bmr included, what is the roadmap to ensure this doesn’t hasten gentrification?

  8. Dognose2

    I hope the main P.O. stays

  9. Loretta Gaddies

    I hope the people who live in that area gets to stay and not allow gentrification to come in and displace those who are already there.

    • Commenter

      I assume you are speaking of the many good citizens of the area, and I will agree with you there. But “gentrification” isn’t a bad word to me, and I welcome it with open arms. You see, unfortunately, Richmond is also rife with violent criminals and people of low to no moral standards, and these people bring EVERYONE’S quality of life down, and keep the city from moving forward from poverty and dysfunction. If you do not believe me then consider the 16 year old girl who was brutally beaten and raped at her own prom dance at Richmond High School a few years ago. Some 20 to 30 people either participated or did nothing until finally after hours of this horror ONE good person happened by and called the police. Look at poor Nico Martinez who was shot some 67 times for no reason at all by a vicious heartless gang of violent criminals. Look at all the MANY senseless murders in town over the years, you think that is something that should be preserved? All the dysfunction? All the violence? Go and read about 41 year old Louis Coleman and his horrific crime spree in the Richmond Standard today. If you think that is a rare crime in Richmond you are in denial. All of these, and the rude people who honk at you and threaten you because you are driving the speed limit while they wish to race down the street as if it’s a freeway. All the people who throw their babies diaper and trash in the street or in our public parking lots. All of those who paint graffiti all over our new buildings and wherever they wish. All those who dump their trash wherever they wish. All those who break into our homes and steal our vehicles. All of these type of people I will happily trade for those people who contribute to our society instead of drain from it. I will happily trade those who know how to behave respectfully and politely in public for those hostile and rude residents who drag the whole town down with their poor behaviour.
      I suggest that people not fear the things that are IMPROVING in Richmond, but welcome it. Downtown Richmond once was a nice town, it was never intended to be a violent dysfunctional place. The plan always has been to revitalize and IMPROVE the area, not to remain mired in disrepair and dysfunction. It’s been a long time coming, over 50 years now. Many people have worked hard for decades to try and attract development such as this, and they continue to do so today. We couldn’t ask for a better developer than Ernst Valery, who clearly cares about people and community as well as buildings. I am glad to see good things finally getting going again and hope that everyone can hold off on all the negativity and give these projects a chance. Good thing BART was put in back in the old days, today everyone would be against it crying”oh no, gentrification! “

      • Tek Sandoval

        Here, here!! At this point, gentrification cannot happen fast enough. I’m sick of the old Richmond. Bring on something new, vital and happening. Out with the old, in with the new.

      • Onna

        Don’t act like gentrification is a fix all for any city. It displaces long time families who are supportive mainstays in their communities. It prices people out of their home neighborhoods; don’t say it doesn’t because it absolutely does. Shame on you for minimizing its impact and grandstanding on the behaviors of some in the name of development. Reading what you wrote implies you think those negative behaviors are the norm of the larger community. With this type of limited vision on the impact of change comes problems that are well documented. Just ask the people of Oakland

        • Commenter

          Well, I could say the same to you. Shame on you for minimizing the effects of crime and dysfunction in our community. And please show me the law that says someone who has lived in an area longer than another person has special rights over those that just moved in, they do not. I think that you are in complete denial about the problems in the “community at large”, all the crime and dysfunction are but symptoms of it. I know lots of people in Oakland, they love it there. Their main complaint is the crime. Crime is the number one concern of Richmond residents as well. Frankly, I am by far more concerned with the problems of those whose loved ones are senselessly murdered than those who have to move to a new city. You may call that “limited vision” but to me it’s just common sense.

          • Tek Sandoval

            “Don’t act like gentrification is a fix for any city.” What is that supposed to even mean? Okay, I’ll act like gentrification can be a fix for a particular city…Richmond. Everyday on my street I pick up used condoms, broken beer bottles, tossed fast food containers, bags of trash, old clothes. I try to avoid the piles of human feces. It is all beyond disheartening. If gentrification drives those people out of Richmond, I am all for it. Give me a populace who takes pride in their community any day over the numerous lowlifes who bring this city down.

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