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Bruce Smith planning 261-unit apartment complex near St. Paul’s redevelopment area in Norfolk

by Trevor Metcalf

NORFOLK — An NFL Hall of Famer-turned-developer wants to construct an apartment complex near a massive public housing redevelopment project downtown.

Virginia Beach resident Bruce Smith wants to build at the southeast corner of St. Paul’s Boulevard and East Brambleton Avenue. The area, currently a parking lot for downtown and Scope arena, would be transformed into a 261-unit development with 4,200 square feet of ground-level retail space, according to city planning documents.

The six-and-a-half story building also would include eight project-based voucher units under the Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to a development certificate application submitted to the city. The complex would have a 500-space parking garage along East Bute Street with overflow space for Scope and Chrysler Hall.

The property would include a pool, gym, yoga studio, game room and a dog park. As part of an agreement with First Baptist Church, the developer plans to preserve the church’s current view by creating a park along East Bute Street and installing other landscaping along St. Paul’s Boulevard and Brambleton Avenue.

The project was among a flurry of announcements made by Mayor Kenny Alexander during the annual State of the City event April 7.

“This has been made possible by NFL Hall of Famer, No. 78 Bruce Smith,” Alexander said at the event, referencing Smith’s uniform number during his playing days. The project name, 78 at Saint Paul’s, also references the number.

The proposed development is blocks away from a long-planned overhaul of several Norfolk public housing complexes.

Monét Johnson, lead housing organizer for New Virginia Majority, said the project signaled an ongoing lack of investment by the city in affordable housing. Even though the project includes eight project-based voucher units, she said more than 3,000 people are on the waiting list in Norfolk for the program.

“If the city actually wants to combat the housing crisis, they need to see every development that comes across their desk as an opportunity to create more affordable housing,” Johnson said.

In an email to the developer, Lelia Vann, president of the Downtown Norfolk Civic League, expressed appreciation for Smith investing in Norfolk. She said she was pleased with the modern look of the building and said her organization “will support you going forward in any way that we can.”

Smith is no stranger to local development or advocacy work. He helped bankroll the Hyatt House hotel at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, invested in a luxury high-rise apartment complex and pushed the Virginia Beach city government to investigate disparities in contracts awarded to minority developers.

Lisa Murphy, a lawyer representing Smith, said she was not able to comment on the project.

The Norfolk Planning Commission will hear about the project at its June 23 meeting.

Trevor Metcalfe, 757-222-5345, [email protected]

Bruce Smith plans to build a 261-unit apartment complex in downtown Norfolk near a major public housing redevelopment project. (Rendering courtesy of Norfolk)

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