The former BB&T building in Uptown Martinsville will be renamed to One Ellsworth as part of its transformation into commercial and apartment space by JRS Realty Partners.
Two and a half years ago, BB&T, now Truist, informed city officials that the building may be demolished. The City of Martinsville saw the building as an opportunity to fill needs in the community and opted to buy the building from the banking company.
“We know that through housing summits and other studies that have been done that we have a shortage on housing,” Martinsville Mayor Kathy Lawson said at a Nov. 29 press conference. “This is a great opportunity for our city and our citizens. It’s going to be beautiful.”
City Manager Leon Towarnicki said the building represented a $15 to $20 million investment, based on current estimates of the building’s size and construction costs.
“It’s actually a very well-built building,” he said. “When you go inside, you don’t see cracking. You don’t see any deterioration. It’s a very good, structurally sound building.”
However, Towarnicki said the benefit of the project goes well beyond the cost saved from not constructing another building.
“Seventy apartment buildings, each one will be individually metered with their own utility accounts, so we’re looking at somewhere in the vicinity of $80,000 to $100,000 a year in utility payments that will be coming to the city,” he said.
There are also benefits outside of numbers.
“When you look at Uptown and you look at what’s happened to Uptown over the past maybe five to 10 years, this building represents kind of an anchor on this end of Uptown Martinsville,” Towarnicki said. “On this end of the Uptown area, there really hasn’t been a lot. So, we’re excited about the project here because of what it represents.”
He added that businesses located Uptown also will benefit from an increase in business from those living in the roughly 70 apartments that will be created in the building.
“Having people come back to Uptown, having people live here and shop here, I think in most cases has been kind of the common denominator and the catalyst for what we need to get more activity in Uptown,” Towarnicki said.
He also hinted at another project a couple of blocks away that is in the final meeting phases.
“I think Uptown Martinsville is really on the edge of transforming for good and it’s going to serve us well for many years to come,” he said.
Lisa Watkins, president of the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce, said the project will “add to the momentum that’s been building here in Uptown Martinsville.” She extended the support and excitement of the chamber for the project.
“We’re just happy to be here and support the effort in any way that we can to help support keeping our businesses sustainable and helping them be successful over the long haul,” she said.
Jim Cherney, a partner with JRS Realty Partners which is overseeing the project, spoke to what the project means and what led to it. He said he and his partner, John Garland, combined bring more than 83 years of Virginia development experience to the table. The two are contributing $9 million to the project, along with $11 million to three other local projects.
“That’s because we believe in Martinsville and we believe in Martinsville’s leadership,” he said. “We believe in their city manager and their mayor. The people, Lisa, who’s explained her involvement with getting us here. These are the folks who see potential for Martinsville.”
Cherney said Martinsville and Henry County are “on the move” and bringing in new industry, fresh innovation, and new faces with new ideas.
“Martinsville truly is a city without limits,” Cherney said. “How will this project support all that? We support the local employers here in town. People who are working in Martinsville, who are working in Henry County, get a paycheck and leave with it to spend it in other communities. That money, if it stays here, has a multiplier effect on the entire local economy.”
He also noted the housing crisis, adding that the national crisis starts locally.
“John and I would like to build desirable buildings, buildings with apartment spaces that we would indeed live in ourselves. We want to build a product that local employees can afford,” he said, specifically mentioning teachers, first responders, and nurses as potential renters.
Cherney said the partners have an interest in historic preservation and are interested in protecting the former BB&T building, which was built in 1959 and is the tallest building in Martinsville.
“It could, it should, and it will be spared from demolition,” he said.
Garland said the renovation of the building is the most environmentally conscious option.
“There’s nothing more environmentally conscious than taking a building and not tearing it down and putting all that material in a landfill, using the structure that’s already there to create a new space,” he said.
He emphasized their desire to have a high-quality design and construction for the building.
“These apartments will have things like washers and dryers in each unit. They’ll have quartz countertops. They’ll have high end appliances, just a number of things that make the apartments very pleasing,” he said.
Roughly 30 percent of the area, though, has been reserved for commercial space, mostly the former portion of the building used by bank tellers.
“We’re thinking it would be multiple restaurants that share a kitchen so we can keep the price point down,” Garland said, “instead of trying to depend on one restaurant occupying a large space. It can also serve the community in having a community kitchen that would serve food trucks.”
The two also are excited about the possibilities offered by the rooftop of the building.
“The rooftop is absolutely beautiful, and we first envisioned that as an apartment, but to the credit of the city, they asked instead of having an apartment up there that would only allow one person to enjoy that view, turn it into a community space and have it as an event space. So, that’s what we did,” Garland said. The space will include a kitchen and both an indoor and outdoor event space.
The timeline set puts the building being ready to be inhabited in 2025, according to Garland.
“As far as schedule, this first year and next year, 2023, will be all planning, design, financing, figuring out exactly what we’re going to do and also removal of asbestos” and other factors, he said.
“Also, the mechanical and electrical systems are from ’59 and maybe newer than that, but very old systems that aren’t appropriate for what we’ll have for the residents,” he said.
“Then, the construction will start late next year, early 2024. We’ll have a year or a little bit longer in construction. So, you’ll have to wait a little bit, but 2025 is when we’ll occupy the building,” Garland said.