In a special-called Wednesday evening meeting, members of the Richmond City Commission, Planning and Zoning Commission and Board of Adjustments met with the public to discuss the future of shopping centers in the city.
The meeting was a result of the planning commission recommending that the city amend its zoning ordinance to conditionally permit churches and government offices in B-4 zones, now reserved only for shopping centers.
Mayor Jim Barnes said he wanted a public discussion before the city commission votes on the change and expressed concern that allowing churches in retail-only zones could hinder the city’s economic growth.
He displayed a graph showing the annual revenue the city received from the Richmond Mall over a decade. In 2008, the mall generated about $96,000 in tax revenue. However, the entity now brings the city only $28,000 a year.
“That’s not anything we did,” Barnes said. “It’s a sign of the times. It’s retail.”
He pointed out that many of the businesses previously in the mall moved to Richmond Centre, which in recent years has become the city’s most populated retail location.
The issue then, the mayor continued, becomes figuring out how to revitalize the mall and similarly affected areas.
Several ideas were proposed by people at the meeting. Planning and Zoning Chair Jason Hart said a big reason businesses avoid renting space in the mall is because they have a better chance of getting loans when they own the property they want to develop. If a company fails to repay a loan and owns property, the bank can repossess the land and sell it to recoup its losses. With rented property, this is not an option.
One way B-4 zones can be more attractive to potential clients is amending the zoning ordinance to allow the selling of outparcels, Hart said. That would permit the landowner to divide and sell pieces of property to businesses and is similar to how Richmond Centre operates. A company could then own its store, and it would pay a fee to maintain the parking lot, which would be open for communal use by the zone’s customers.
Pieces of the parking lot could also be sold as outparcels, providing that the development stayed within city planning requirements. Planning and Zoning Inspector Kevin Causey said a Golden Corral once expressed interest in putting a restaurant in the Richmond Mall parking lot. However, no outparcels were allowed on the property because of its zoning, so the chain went elsewhere, he said.
Another solution brought up by several in the audience, including City Commissioner Robert Blythe, was to change the focus of the mall to revenue-producing entities other than retail. He suggested inviting for-profit technical schools and colleges to rent the space, creating an education center instead of a shopping district.
The idea of an outside study to determine the viability of another retail center was also brought up. Many in the audience voiced concerns that making the mall compete with Richmond Centre, as well as Walmart and Kroger on either side of it, may never be a possibility.
Barnes said the city commission would take the suggestions into consideration as its decides whether to make churches and government offices conditional uses in B-4 zones.
Seth Littrell can be reached at email@example.com or 624-6623.