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Jefferson Hotel owner revives plan to demolish neighboring church building

The century-old Second Baptist Church building at Franklin and Adams streets. The Jefferson Hotel owns the building and has been using it for storage. (Photos by Mike Platania)

Thirty years after it first sought to do so, the owner of The Jefferson Hotel is looking to tear down the building’s historic next-door neighbor.

Historic Hotels of Richmond, tied to Bill Goodwin’s CCA Industries, filed permit applications with the city in September to demolish the century-old Second Baptist Church building at 13 W. Franklin St., just east of the five-star hotel.

The applications seek to take down the existing structure, backfill the basement and landscape the property, which Historic Hotels bought as part of an assemblage when it purchased The Jefferson in 1991.

The following year, the hotel sought to demolish the church building, citing structural deterioration and a need for more parking, as well as concerns that the building was attracting vagrants. Preservationists at the time successfully fought to save the building, which the hotel fenced off and has been using for storage.

The demolition applications filed in late September do not specify what would be done with the quarter-acre property beyond filling the basement and landscaping over the site. Requests for comment from the hotel and CCA were not returned. The city’s online permit portal shows three applications received, with one listed as denied, another voided and a third “on hold/awaiting more info.”

That application puts the project cost at $350,000. Draper Aden Associates is listed as the engineer for the work.

The proposed demolition has already caught the eye of nearby nonprofit Historic Richmond, which was involved in fighting to save the building the first go-round.

According to a flyer it has put out about the plan, the nonprofit interprets the application as meaning that the land could end up being used for parking.

The flyer states that the nonprofit reached out to the hotel and was told that the demolition was sought due to structural issues with the building and “an inability to find an economically viable use.”

The flyer says past proposals to adaptively reuse the building have included a fitness center, pool, offices and housing. It adds that similar structures have been adapted for retail use, restaurants and food halls.

“With or without the financial assistance of tax credits, we can see Second Baptist’s refreshed exterior housing any number of amenities to burnish the hotel’s five stars and to enhance the visitor experience to Richmond,” the flyer states, encouraging readers to voice concerns to the mayor, the City Council and Richmond planning staff.

Cyane Crump, Historic Richmond’s executive director, said she hopes an arrangement can be reached to preserve the building.

“We think it’s a beautiful historic structure,” Crump said Friday. “We would love to see it saved somehow.”

The sanctuary building with columned portico is next door to The Jefferson, where work involving scaffolding on its two towers has been ongoing.

The sanctuary building, built in 1906, was designed by William Noland of Noland and Baskervill, a predecessor of the present-day Baskervill architecture firm.

Featuring a prominent columned portico, the neoclassic building’s design was based on the same Roman temple that Thomas Jefferson modeled the Virginia State Capitol building after.

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Grace Street Commercial Historic District. It’s also part of Richmond’s West Franklin Street Old and Historic District, a city designation that requires approval of building modifications by the Commission of Architectural Review (CAR).

Crump said she was unsure how the permit review process would play out. Kevin Vonck, the city’s planning director, confirmed Friday that the remaining permit application is currently on hold, which he said is due to the Old and Historic District designation.

Vonck said the designation requires a certificate of appropriateness from CAR for the application to proceed. He said it’s up to the applicant to pursue that route.

“The ball is in their court,” Vonck said.

Crump said the building’s architectural significance warrants such review.

“If the owners intend to proceed, we’d like to see it go through the Commission of Architectural Review process, because of its architectural merit and the fact that it’s in a city Old and Historic District,” Crump said.

“We don’t really know much at this point. We look forward to learning more, and if we can help be part of a solution that saves it, we’re interested in exploring that.”

Totaling 8,500 square feet, the building and its quarter-acre parcel were most recently assessed by the city at $926,000. Historic Hotels owns four adjoining parcels that it uses as parking lots. Two other parcels on the block are owned by YMCA of Greater Richmond, which uses them as a parking lot for its Downtown YMCA branch across Franklin.

The applications come as work to The Jefferson’s exterior continues. Scaffolding on the hotel building’s two Tuscan-style towers have been in place for over a year, though it’s not clear what work is being done. A hotel spokeswoman declined to discuss the work in detail when asked about it earlier.

City permits approved in 2019 describe removal of existing roofing and replacement with membrane roofing, and repair and replacement of decorative terra cotta elements including balusters. A demolition permit also was approved for preparation for a restaurant upgrade.

In 2017, the hotel wrapped up a four-year, three-phase renovation that expanded rooms and reduced its total room count. The century-old rotunda ceiling was restored, and new furnishings were placed in the rotunda and palm court lobbies and in the Lemaire restaurant, among other improvements.

• BizSense reporter Mike Platania contributed to this report.

Jefferson Hotel owner revives plan to demolish neighboring church building