By Kevin Collison
Almost four years after becoming co-developer of the planned East Village redevelopment, VanTrust Real Estate has negotiated a new lease deal with the city that puts it fully in charge of moving the floundering project forward.
And while VanTrust has no immediate plans for construction in the eight-block downtown redevelopment area northeast of City Hall, the development firm is busy acquiring properties.
“We really like what’s going on in the urban core and there’s a lot of potential for the east side of downtown,” said Rich Muller, VanTrust executive vice president. “To facilitate that, what’s been missing is land control. The city controls less than half (40 percent) of the eight blocks.”
To address that issue, VanTrust recently bought the former Della Lamb charter school building at 1000 Charlotte St. 10th and is finalizing the purchase of the derelict Blackstone Hotel, 817 Cherry St., and the entire city block northeast of 10th and Holmes once occupied by J.E. Dunn.
J.E. Dunn kicked off the East Village redevelopment in 2009 when it opened its new headquarters at 11th and Locust.
Since then, the only other project built in what was heralded as an ambitious, Quality Hill-style overhaul of the east side of downtown was a 50-unit affordable apartment project at 950 Holmes St. done by Swope Community Builders in 2011.
The city granted Swope development rights to the East Village in 2005. At the time, an ambitious plan that called for 1,200 residences and office and retail space was envisioned. That plan failed to progress and VanTrust was brought on board as co-developer in 2013.
Now, Muller said the city has renegotiated the lease putting VanTrust in the lead role and Swope as co-developer.
“Renegotiating the deal with the city and Swope is a big deal,” Muller said.
“We’re probably starting from scratch on the plan. It was an ambitious plan and maybe aspects could come close to fruition over time. We believe something great can happen there.”
Muller believes the East Village redevelopment plan will follow previous thinking that called for residential on the north four blocks and office on the south four blocks. And with downtown now seeing a significant decline in its office vacancy rate, he is bullish about its prospects for attracting businesses.
VanTrust is considering office development with a more suburban style, larger floor plates and low-rise buildings.
“We do think there’s a market for that kind of product downtown,” Muller said.