After three years of frustrating delays, hammers are swinging again on the River District Tower project.
At the former Dan River Research Building, crews are scraping multiple layers of peeling paint from the walls, carefully replacing rotten or missing sections of the original maple floors and ceilings and preparing to move the main entrance to the building from Main Street to a former loading dock on Bridge Street.
The former loading dock is where the building’s signature tower will be located — a modern glass structure that will be the main entrance and elevator location. The first floor will have a small museum of Dan River Inc.’s history and will showcase memorabilia found in the building, including a room full of patents, spools and parts of some looms left attached to ceilings.
Larry Hasson, of Dewberry — the company handling engineering and design of the project — said a modern touch will be added to the historic, brick building.
“The glass tower for elevators means we can keep the facade [facing Main Street] intact,” Hasson said.
All of the steps being taken now will lead up to the major construction, which will begin with replacing the roof.
Since this is a historic building, and federal and state historic tax credits are being used for some of the financing of the project, everything done to the existing building has to be approved by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Hasson said.
One corner of the building had a tree growing right into the brick. To remove the tree, they carefully removed bricks, which will be cleaned up and reused in the same space.
“We have to keep all existing materials, or match them exactly,” Hasson said.
Even replacing broken or rotting windows meant negotiating with DHR, proving certain windows are unfixable and getting permission to replace them with exactly the same windows made of exactly the same materials.
Hasson said simply replacing all of the windows would be easier and more cost effective, but DHR insists on repairing, rather than replacing, whenever possible, so some original windows will remain.
Originally plans called for some of the interior brick walls to be exposed, but since they have always been painted, DHR said they need to remain painted.
But there are no restrictions on what color the walls have to be, so Hasson intends to take advantage of that.
“We’re trying to make this building fun,” Hasson said.
The top two floors in the main part of the building will be the new home of Danville Orthopedic Clinic, currently on Executive Drive, as well as its offices for other offices on Memorial Drive that focus on pain solutions, rheumatology and arthritis treatment and spinal injuries.
There will be about 50 exam/treatment rooms and a large physical therapy area that will include a therapy pool and whirlpool.
A spacious conference room on the top floor — and many of the offices — have spectacular views of the Dan River, the River District and the White Mill.
Dr. Mark Hermann, an orthopedic surgeon and a principal member of River District Development LLC (the group of 11 investors involved in the project), said that while the wait for the project to get underway has been frustrating, his passion for the project has never wavered.
“We wanted to do something for the community, bring that building back to life,” Hermann said. “That building really charged me up; I saw its potential for the River District ... I believed in what we were doing. I always believed it would come out good.”
The second floor of the building will house medical offices for Danville Regional Medical Center.
The main floor of the buildings that face Main and Bridge streets will be leasable spaces for other tenants and the museum.
The oldest building — the smaller building facing the Dan River that was the original home of Dan River Inc. — will be restaurant space, with all floors having outdoor dining options on patios and balconies.
Hermann said he expects the building to be fully tenanted by early 2017 and that there will be roughly 200 people working in the building — but patients, restaurant customers and people visiting the other businesses will bring a lot more people to the building.
“We’ll be seeing 500-1,000 people going through the building a day,” Hermann said.
A morass of rules and regulations involved in getting federal or historic tax credits to help finance the project is what caused the three-year delay in getting the project moving along.
In order to qualify for federal new market tax credits, a special nonprofit “community development entity” had to be created to handle it.
Danville did so and qualified for $20 million in federal new market tax credits — but that doesn’t mean the government handed a check for $20 million, explained Joe Foster, a certified public accountant and one of the investors in the River District Tower project.
Instead, Foster said, the $20 million refers to the amount of money needed to be raised for the project. The federal new market tax credit program can be used to back 39 percent of that project — in this case, $7.8 million — and is used to attract investors willing to buy into the project in exchange for federal tax deductions over the course of seven years. The IRS has to approve each of the investors interested in participating.
River District Development will have to pay the $7.8 million back to the IRS at the end of the seven-year period, when a revitalized building can be expected to be worth enough to make banks feel more secure about refinancing the project to cover the debt.
“We’re basically borrowing all of the money; it has to be paid back,” Foster said.
The development is also responsible for paying taxes on the money, which is considered income.
While the process for getting federal or state historic tax credits has its own sets of rules, the project also qualified for them, bringing roughly $5 million in for the project. The balance of the money needed for the project comes from individual investors in the development and bank loans.
“Not a lot of projects have used both kinds of tax credits,” Foster said. “We had to create about 10 different entities to pull it off.”
Hermann wryly said none of the investors are getting rich on the project, but hope that, in addition to making an important contribution to the community, they will see a return on their investment in their lifetimes.
“There are a lot better ways to make money than this,” Hermann said.
Any time a number or projection changed, the inch-thick financial model had to be updated, Foster said, adding that any time one number changed, a lot of other numbers changed as well.
“I’ve probably done 50 of these during this process,” Foster said, tapping the document.
Hermann said there were times it felt like the project was fated to be subjected to “Murphy’s Law.”
“If there was something that could impact this project, it did,” Hermann said, citing delays due to the federal government shutdown in 2013, delays in awarding tax credits and other obstacles over the past three years.
Hermann, Foster and Hasson all expressed relief that the long wait is finally over.
“Seven years ago I said, ‘Let’s create a space for our office,’” Hermann said, with a rueful smile. “I believed in what we were doing, but never dreamed it would take this long.”
The conversion of the former Acree’s Warehouse into an indoor parking lot is taking longer than expected, but a representative of the architecture firm handling the project said it will be completed by Christmas.
The garage covers most of a River District block bounded by Craghead, Bridge, Loyal and Wilson streets, except for some commercial and residential space facing Craghead Street.
Emmett Lifsey, a principal with CJMW Architecture in Lynchburg, said in March that he anticipated completion by the end of summer. On Thursday he said unexpected delays have added some time to the project.
“There have been issues with existing conditions and general construction delays,” Lifsey said Thursday. “Nothing major; it’s just the process.”
Some extra poles to strengthen the roof took some extra time, and will cut into the number of parking spaces in the garage. Originally expected to net about 150 parking spaces, there will more likely be about “130 or so” when the parking stripes are painted, Lifsey said.
The huge space is well lit by windows on all sides of the space and lights hanging from the ceilings, which also lend airiness to the space.
Trevor Owen — of M.R. Dishman, the general contractor for the project — said parking garages typically have low ceilings.
“Some of these are as high as 30 feet,” Owen said.
Most of the floor had been poured on Thursday, with some concrete work still needed around support poles and at some of the entrances. There is also painting to be done to the ceiling and support poles.
There will be four entrances for vehicles to enter and leave the garage, from Bridge, Loyal and Wilson streets. Pedestrians leaving or returning to the garage will also have multiple options, but the main pedestrian entrance will be at the corner of Loyal and Bridge streets, where a former gas station once was housed.
That entrance will be across the street from the River District Tower project, where medical officers are planned for three of the floors.
Lifsey said that area of the garage will be where handicapped parking will be placed.
Thibodeau reports for the Danville Register & Bee.
The Danville Family YMCA has been selected as one of the top 10 recreation facilities in the world by Athletic Business Magazine.
In June, the YMCA was featured in the magazine as one of the top 66. Those selections were then judged by a panel of architects who chose the top 10 facilities of merit, according to a news release issued Friday.
“To be featured in the Top 66 issue of the magazine was a great honor, so when we found out our YMCA was in the top 10 we were amazed,” said Sarah Folmar, CEO of the Danville Family YMCA.
“With the generous support of our community, our Y has come a long way,” she said.
The news was announced Friday on the publication’s website. It will be published in the November print issue of the magazine.
In celebration of this top 10 award, the YMCA will be waving the $50 joiners fee for 10 days: Saturday through Oct. 25.
The magazine is geared toward recreation facilities of all types including universities, community centers and health clubs.
The feature includes pictures of the facility and a description of how the new Danville Family YMCA incorporates the history of the location as well as how it serves as a symbol of the future for the River District, according to the release.
Roobrik, a health IT software start-up company, has received $75,000 from The Launch Place’s pre-seed investment fund.
The Durham, North Carolina, based company will use the money to bring its online health care decision tool “Is It Time to Get Help?” to market. The funds will be distributed over a three month period. The Launch Place will also provide ongoing consultation services.
Roobrik previously developed the “Is It Safe to Drive” product last September. The tool helped users catalogue noticed changes in driving habits and calculate risk levels through a simple online assessment.
The software at play in this upcoming release features proprietary algorithms developed by clinicians and caregivers to guide elderly adults and their families through the long-term care process. Roobrik estimates there is a more than 70 million-person market for this product, which alleviates the stress and confusion associated with such transitional choices.
The consulting and business planning assistance provided by The Launch Place was the main attraction for Roobrik. The four employee operation sometimes struggles to cover all the bases of a developing company, CEO and Founder Nate O’Keefe explained.
“ They’ve been open in their willingness to help us tackle some issues,” O’Keefe said. “They’ve got a full time marketing person that’s been working with us.”
While O’Keefe was complimentary of the Dan River Region’s appeal, he’s unsure if it will become a future satellite location for the company that already has two small offices in Durham and Greensboro, North Carolina.
“ We intend to continue to evaluate that,” O’Keefe said of a move to Danville. “We’re looking at all the options available to us. Part of the program is looking at what’s up there and seeing what’s a right fit.”
Already some aspects of Danville resources are lining up with the start-up’s needs. Roobrik will soon likely need to hire employees to handle customer support. Applicants with an allied health and nursing background will be need, too. Their expertise will be put to use to help inform future product development.
If interested, Roobrik can apply to receive further funding from The Launch Place via its Seed Fund. Two other companies have received pre-seed funding from The Launch Place: high performance yard producer and seller 3F and anti-distraction wristband creators FokusLabs.