I have long been an admirer of the Southern States silos at the base of the Mayo Bridge in Manchester. Their industrial grittiness is a reminder that Manchester was once where things were made and industry ruled. But that industrial star is slowly fading as residential housing takes hold of the area’s unparalleled views of the James River and city skyline.
We were reminded of this change when Lory Markham of Markham Planning announced at last week’s Manchester Alliance meeting that three large parcels adjacent to the Manchester silos had been placed under contract by a group comprised of Fountainhead Development’s Tom Papa and WVS Cos.’ Jason Vickers-Smith and Richard Souter. Markham is handling the proposed rezoning for the parcels so that large apartment buildings can be constructed along the Manchester Canal. If you are unfamiliar with the area, you might recognize one of the buildings that is located on one of these parcels and is decorated with the mural of a witch from the RVA Street Art Festival.
While the Manchester silos are not part of the transaction or rezoning proposal, if you connect the dots you can see where this is headed. We have seen this movie before. If the three parcels are developed with apartment high rises, those parcels will be built with parking in mind to serve the proposed 200+ apartment units located on the same site. That will likely do two things: 1) raise the value of the Manchester silos and 2) it will likely remove the use of these adjacent parcels for future parking for whatever is done with with Manchester silos.
To be fair, the Manchester Silos are not the responsibility of the owners and developers of the adjacent land. These developers are simply doing what comes naturally for such an attractive and highly underutilized property: build and make it into something more valuable. But I have to say that I fear what might come next: an announcement that the Manchester Silos have been sold and are set for demolition. Lory Markham said with a concerned look on her face at the Manchester Alliance meeting when asked: “I don’t know what is going to happen to the silos.” Again, the silos are not her responsibility or that of the development group she represents. But you can read between the lines.
As of this morning, Richmond BizSense reported on this same topic as they were also at the same Manchester Alliance meeting. They quoted one of the managers of the Riverfront Silos LLC that owns the silos who had this to say:
“Recognizing Manchester’s changing landscape, LeCompte said the site, if it were to be sold, would be better suited to accommodate a mix of commercial or residential uses.
‘What’s there is not the best use as the city has progressed,”he said. “There used to be more industrial, and now that is transitioning to be more habitational. Manchester is an exciting place, so whatever goes on our property down the line, it will be significant.’”
So what’s my takeaway? I think you’d best get your photos of the Manchester Silos now. If I were a betting man, I would say the silos’ days are numbered. I hope I am wrong and that someone comes up with a creative way to keep the silos and put them to good use. If there is one thing this town doesn’t lack-it is creativity. We shall see…