The person who has arguably had the single largest impact on Manchester of anyone in recent memory, has just passed-J. Harwood Cochrane. As reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Mr. Cochrane was 103 years old.
Mr. Cochrane was the founder of Manchester’s Overnight Transportation, which is now UPS Freight. As we reported in our Rebuilding Manchester article, Mr. Cochrane was largely responsible for what Manchester looks like today. Here is the excerpt from that article about Mr. Cochrane and the downstream impacts his decisions had on today’s building bonanza on all the blank parcels in the neighborhood:
According to Richmond BizSense, “Harwood Cochrane, founder of Overnite Transportation and local philanthropist, had donated 30 acres of land throughout Manchester to the VMFA.” This apparently was after Mr. Cochrane bulldozed most of the old historic houses that once sat on these lots. Apparently Cochrane considered the properties to be blighted and beyond repair. He also considered them an eyesore surrounding his Overnight Transportation corporate headquarters (what is now UPS).
I suspect that many folks would disagree with that assessment if presented with the same situation today. Historic preservation has gained more traction and popularity these days. But regardless of whether you agree with Mr. Cochrane’s decision to level huge swaths of Manchester, he created a clean slate that is driving the residential building boom we see now.
Not knowing what to do with its huge land and property donation, according to Richmond BizSense, VMFA put out a “request for proposals, seeking possible plans from developers for the donated land. Miller and Gecker competed against four other developers and ultimately bought several parcels for $4.77 million that included several single-family homes and some larger plots for development.”
Given this concentration of ownership, the speed, quality, and mix of residential development in Manchester rests largely in the hands of Miller and Gecker. It presents a great opportunity. However, I suspect it is also an enormous challenge given the sheer number of vacant parcels. If you walk the neighborhood, you see multiple instances of entire city blocks sitting vacant waiting for development activity to begin. Miller and Gecker’s master plan as posted on their website gives a rough idea of what they have in mind.
Regardless of your viewpoint on Mr. Cochrane’s decisions related to the blighted buildings of Manchester, his and Manchester’s history are inextricably linked. Mr. Cochrane made today’s building boom possible.