I swung by one of my favorite Manchester spots, Camden’s Dogtown Market, for a Friday wine tasting and dinner a few weeks ago. Chef/Owner Andy Howell and I were chatting it up with our usual friendly banter. After discussing everything from politics to hunting dogs in rural Virginia, he asked me: “Hey, did you see they started work on the salt flats?” I laughed out loud. I knew exactly what he was talking about without ever having heard the area referred to as “salt flats” before. The name fit perfectly. Andy was referring to the next phase of the Reynolds South project of course. But as that comment began to sink in, a lump started to develop in my throat. I silently thought to myself-uh-oh, Legend Brewing’s patio view is a goner.
The development is being spearheaded by Cushman & Wakefield Thalhimer’s two affiliates: Thalhimer Realty Partners and MGT Construction. The first phase of the project was a mixed use historic tax credit development commonly referred to as City View Lofts. The project repurposed the dormant Reynolds South plant into a newly contributing component of industrial Manchester’s rebirth. The first phase of the project has helped turn an industrial wasteland into something positive for Manchester. Frankly, I would go so far as to call it an awesome, and wildly successful project.
The next phase of the Reynolds South development is new construction, however. And if the resulting towers end up looking anything like the concept renderings listed on the Cushman & Wakefield Thalhimer website, industrial Manchester is in for a big change. The concept plan calls for two 13 story towers, although an article by Richmond BizSense on the project mentioned that the towers could reach as high as 15 stories.
Regardless of whether the towers are 13 or 15 stories, the iconic view of the city from Legend Brewing’s outdoor patio will cease to exist-or at least be dramatically reduced. At first, I hesitated to write this article, because I knew there were going to be a bunch of upset folks who have been visiting Legend’s patio for decades. Heck, Travel & Leisure magazine even featured the patio in its article: “City Suds: The Best Urban Breweries and Brewpubs“. As Richmond’s oldest surviving brewery, Legend deserves some respect. They were making beer before hipsters were using beard oil and quaffing double IPAs. And if you have lived in Richmond for any length of time, it is hard not to feel nostalgic about that patio and its iconic view of the city skyline. I spent more weekend nights out on that patio during my twenties than I care to admit. My wife and I still visit the patio regularly.
Projects that alter longstanding view-sheds are always controversial. Just look at the food fight over the Echo Harbor project on the north side of the river as covered by John Murden at Church Hill People’s News. From the developer’s perspective, I suspect they will rightly point out that Legend doesn’t own the view of downtown. There is no arguing that point, especially when considering how far back the patio is from the riverfront and the amount of property that sits between. And as good neighbors, Thalhimer should be applauded for the huge sums of money they are investing in Manchester. They have done incredible work rolling up their sleeves and helping bring Manchester back to life. Towers like those proposed at Reynolds South and South Canal will add badly needed density. Only with density will we be successful in bringing necessities like a grocery store to the neighborhood. Towers in these areas will also put pressure on the City to finally see through its Riverfront Development Plan for the south bank of the river.
Regardless, change like this is difficult. And I suspect this is going to be a heated debate. It will be interesting to watch this play out…however it ends up. In the mean time, I suggest you run over to Legend’s posthaste, grab a beer on that patio, and soak in the view. It’s hard to tell at this point how much longer it will be there to enjoy.
Photo credit: K. Andrew Travel & Leisure