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Norfolk approves former NFL player Bruce Smith’s plans to build apartment complex near Scope arena

by Daniel Berti/The Virginian-Pilot

Bruce Smith plans to build a 287-unit apartment complex in downtown Norfolk near a major public housing redevelopment project. (Rendering courtesy of Norfolk)

Norfolk City Council approved former NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Smith’s plan for a 287-unit apartment complex with a city-funded parking garage across from the Scope Arena.

Council voted to approve an agreement between the city and Smith to build the apartment complex at the southeast corner of St. Paul’s Boulevard and East Brambleton Avenue at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

The site is currently a parking lot owned by the city of Norfolk.

Smith, 59, grew up in the Ghent neighborhood of Norfolk. He and his family were among the hundreds of Black families forced to move from the neighborhood after the city began condemning homes and seizing property through eminent domain in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The land where he plans to build the complex is the parking lot behind Queen Street Baptist Church, which Smith said he attended while growing up in Norfolk.

“This brings it full circle for me, having lived through the condemning of Ghent and being forced to move, to now have the opportunity to come back and have an impact in the community,” Smith said.

Smith graduated from Booker T. Washington High School. He went on to play 19 seasons in the National Football League and was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2009. He has since been involved in several local development projects in Hampton Roads, such as the Hyatt House hotel at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.

The proposed complex in downtown Norfolk will be named 78 at St. Paul’s, a reference to Smith’s jersey number.

Council approved the sale of the lot to Smith’s company, Bruce Smith Enterprises LLC, for $432,000. The parcel is valued at $2.7 million, nearly five times that, according to city records. The city will also fund the entirety of the apartment building’s 500-space parking garage, according to the agreement.

The garage will dedicate 287 parking spaces to the apartment building, with additional spaces for the Scope and Chrysler Hall entertainment venues.

The city estimates the project will bring in $500,000 annually in local tax revenue, Smith said.

The six-and-a-half story building will have 4,200 square feet of ground-level retail space, according to city documents. It also includes a pool, gym, yoga studio, game room and a dog park.

Eight of the apartments will be reserved for low-income residents who have housing vouchers from the city’s housing authority. Smith has also tentatively committed to devoting another 57 units to people making 80% of the area median income or less.

The proposed development is blocks away from a long-planned overhaul of Tidewater Gardens, one of the city’s largest public housing properties.

New Virginia Majority, a nonprofit organization involved in local housing issues, opposed the new apartment building at Tuesday’s council meeting. Organizers contend that, because the city is facing an affordable housing crisis, the project should have included more units available to low-income residents with housing vouchers.

“How does the city justify not increasing the number of voucher units past three percent?” said Vincent Hodges, an organizer with New Virginia Majority.

There were nearly 9,000 applicants on the waiting list for Norfolk housing authority’s public housing and housing choice voucher program as of May, according to housing authority documents.

Smith said his company is pursuing a loan of up to $50 million from Virginia Housing Development Authority to help finance the project. If the loan is approved, the apartment building will be required to provide 20%, or about 58, of its units at below market rate.

A spokesman for Virginia Housing said the organization is expecting a loan application from Bruce Smith Enterprises LLC, but said it has not yet been received.

City Manager Chip Filer said the city has been assured Smith will pursue the loan, but added there is “no guarantee.”

Councilman Paul Riddick, whose ward includes the development, said he has “confidence in Mr. Smith and his intentions.”

“I believe this is something we can be proud of,” Riddick said.

Daniel Berti, [email protected]

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