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South Boston nearly ready for bids on Randolph project

South Boston News / January 31, 2019
South Boston is “95 percent” ready to solicit bids from building contractors for the restoration of the John Randolph Hotel — the next major step toward bringing the long-abandoned downtown landmark back to life.

Town Manager Tom Raab told members of South Boston Council on Monday that details of the construction project should be finalized by the end of the week, after he meets with the architect who has been working on the design for the Randolph. The plan calls for renovating the old motor lodge as a three-story, 27-room boutique hotel with a rooftop bar.

“We’re very close to having the final drawings completed by Friday, then we go out to bid,” said Raab.

The Town has partnered with Hal Craddock, developer of the Craddock Hotel in Lynchburg and the Sessions Hotel in Bristol, to reopen the Randolph as a boutique inn “comparable to Berry Hill” in quality, said Raab. The building is owned by the South Boston Industrial Development Authority, which in turn will lease it to Craddock and his management group for a period of 10 years.

The lease provision is required under the terms of a $475,000 state industrial revitalization grant obtained by the town for the project. South Boston also has received $600,000 from the Virginia Tobacco Commission, and Craddock and his group have identified an additional $1 million in historic tax credits to apply towards the restoration work. Raab has suggested the partnership will ultimately attract up to $5 million in loans and grants.

Now, the Town is hoping that cost estimates from contractors will come back in the $5 million cost range, although the town has previously pegged the project expense at around $8 million.

“I’m hoping the bid prices will come in between five and six [million],” said Raab. “I think they [the developers] would work with it all the way up to $8 million.”

The scope of work includes installing new HVAC, wiring and other systems, gutting and rebuilding the guest rooms and other interior spaces, and making various other improvements. There are no plans to expand the size of the building, although Raab said an economic feasibility study of the project suggested that “if you had the money, you could probably add on another 40 rooms.

“We hope this will be the first place that people will be turned down” due to the hoped-for popularity of a boutique hotel, said Raab.

While the planning and design process plays out, the town and IDA have spent the past six months tearing out the interior walls on the first floor and most of the second floor, leaving the space “all wide open,” said Raab. Removal of the walls, done by town employees and contract labor, has revealed the underlying elegance of the old hotel: “It’s really a unique building — the floors are great, it’s great, Halifax will be very proud of it” once renovations are complete, said Raab.

There’s also space next door that can be converted into an events center, for conferences, seminars, sit-down banquets and other group gatherings. While it’s “still up in the air exactly how that would work,” said Raab, the adjoining building can accommodate around 150 people.

“It’s a big space,” he said.

After sending final architectural plans to contractors, Raab said he hopes to hear back from them within 60 days with bids for the proposed work. If the cost estimates fall within expectations, construction work on the Randolph could begin as soon as April.

In other comments to Council members at their work session on Monday, Raab said the Town expects to announce soon that it has been selected as the home of a new corporate office. “We’re excited about that. I can’t say a lot about that, but the mayor and I have been working on it and it looks very positive,” he said.

Also, Raab hailed the work being done by Southside Outreach Group on the Poplar Creek housing development, calling it a “monstrous project.” Southside Outreach, a non-profit which promotes affordable housing, has brought in partners including Dominion Energy and the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center to expand services at Poplar Creek.

One example, Raab noted, is a workforce training hub that is being planned for site, which was Fairmont Apartments before it was purchased and renamed by Southside Outreach.

Another planned amenity there is a 24-hour child care center, which will fill an acute, unmet need in the community, said Raab. Among those who might benefit from such a service are town workers who operate snowplows around the clock during the winter storms: “If we have a snowfall they’re on 24 hour shifts … they need somewhere to take their children in,” Raab said.

Southside Outreach and Tri-Country Community Action Agency also are partnering on a state program to buy up homes in town that are in poor shape, with the aim of fixing them up and selling them on the open market. The program, offered through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, allows the agencies to spend up to $35,000 on renovations and split the profits from sales of the homes.

“I think it’s a great, great program and something we can use in the community to help clean up some of our buildings,” said Raab.

The Town is also working on other initiatives, such as converting Main Street to two-way traffic and establishing a trailhead to the Tobacco Heritage Trail at the entrance into downtown, near the Route 501 Watkins bridge at the Dan River. The trail link, which would lie on the north side of the river near train tracks owned by Norfolk Southern, requires a sign-off by the rail industry giant. So far, Raab acknowledged, it has been hard to get the company’s attention.

A downtown link would be in addition to the Cotton Mill trailhead park. The South Boston portion of the Tobacco Heritage Trail is set to gain an extension of more than a mile to the current 2.5 mile length.

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On a much larger project from 8 or so years ago, how about C H Friend School. I think apartments were promised, but the older part of the building has to be in such disrepair. Did the new owner bite off more than he can handle. Can the City take the building back before it falls in on itself and save the historic landmark before it goes up in smoke???

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