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Updated plans for the 25th Street Theater

Josh Bilder has been making the rounds sharing updated redevelopment plans for the East End Theater in advance of going before Planning and City Council for a Special Use Permit. The ordinance for the SUP is to be introduced in September, which should put it before Planning and Council in October. Aspects of the design will be before CAR at their August 27 meeting.

The proposed redevelopment would convert the theater and a new construction addition into 22 market rate apartments and a commercial space. The apartments would be predominately 1 bedroom units at 630 square feet, with a number of 2 bedroom units at 890 square feet. The theater lot is zoned UB, and is adjacent to areas zoned R-63.

The new proposal resembles the initial design from earlier in the year, though important changes have been made in response to feedback from the community and the Department of Historic Resources. Now in the hands of the Lawrence Group out of New York, the project now has 22 apartments (down from from 39), 3,450 square feet of commercial space (up from 1,275), and the new addition to the side is both smaller and set back from the street. Also, every unit includes an operable window at eye level.

Bilder is seeking the SUP for 4 aspects of the project:

  • To allow for the 33 foot height of the addition
  • To allow the 26 foot side yard (current UB zoning only allows 15)
  • To allow the ratio of residential to commercial uses (proposed is 5 1/2 to 1, UB allows 3 to 1)
  • To waive the rear yard setback requirements (would like addition to be able to match the theater)

As with any new development, parking has been an area of concern for this project. The theater location os grandfathered for 38 parking spaces, and the city says that they’ll need to provide 3 offsite parking spots because of the new addition. Off-street parking will not be offered on lots across the street owned by Bilder, in response to concerns voiced by neighbors.

The theater was built in 1937 and has been vacant since 1970.


Houdon 08/15/2013 at 9:37 AM

I am very hopeful and very excited about this project. Done as proposed, it will be transformational.

Houdon 08/15/2013 at 9:38 AM

That said, less talking and more doing, please!

John M 08/15/2013 at 9:46 AM

@Houdon – At the meeting on Tuesday night, it was said that from SUP approval it would take about a year for the project to be completed.

Alex 08/15/2013 at 10:13 AM

MUCH better. Kudos Mr. Bilder. I know you’ve taken a lot of shit on the board (plenty of it from me) but this is a great improvement and you’ve got my support on this project now.

aquan84 08/15/2013 at 10:20 AM

Why does church hill need more housing? Have you taken a look of all the vacant houses around the area?

there already is a large surplus of homes already, Whynot figure out what we can do with those first?

Kristen H 08/15/2013 at 10:27 AM

With all the negative talk about the Church Hill Association recently, I think it’s important to point out here that the zoning committee worked with developers to identify modifications to their original development proposal that would address neighborhood concerns. I’m super impressed that the developers were willing to work with the community and the city to bring this building back to life in a way that works for the surrounding residents. This is what collaboration and cooperation looks like! The developer even worked with the neighbor immediately adjacent to the building to make sure they were supportive. Their concerns have been addressed and they have written a letter of support for the project.

Thank you CHA zoning committee and thank you Lawrence Group for working together for the common good!

Other developers who have the exact opposite approach (you know who you are) take note. Working with the community yields results, it saves money, and it saves time. Plus it avoids bad press and lawsuits. Cooperation works!

Bill2 08/15/2013 at 10:53 AM

#8. The neighbors are concerned about where street parking will be for 22 units since the developer only has to provide 3 spaces. There’s no shortage of vacant lots but if they’re used for additional buildings, the parking problem only increases. The lots are already vacant – it’s not like historic buildings are being torn down to make way for asphalt.

Michael 08/15/2013 at 1:17 PM

The City is holding the dilapidated building and parking lot on 24th Street in inventory across from the firehouse as a special arrangement for Mr. Bilder, and only Mr. Bilder, to buy. He would turn that 24th Street building into more tiny apartments as well, and his parking problem for the theater is solved because of the parking lot that comes with the 24th Street building.

Both projects are a poor use of the structures. The neighborhood needs businesses, restaurants, and brewpubs, not more residential units. However, that doesn’t seem to matter to those in power, since Bilder is cozy with The City officials and sits on CAR. Can you say, “Corruption and Cronyism?”

Once the lot on 24th is taken, kiss all future potential businesses/restaurants goodbye without SUPs for each individual project. That means each new business/restaurant will require a knockdown drag out fight for a SUP akin to the Buzzy’s debacle. This is because there will be no parking with the exception of the 24th street lot which will be unavailable because it is reserved for Bilder’s residential units. BIG MISTAKE.

The only reason the restaurants/businesses in Carytown can exist is because of the parking lot behind Coppolas they can all point to in order to satisfy zoning requirements. If this proceeds, Bilder and the City will have absolutely screwed Church Hill as there in no getting the 24th Street lot back in the future.

John 08/15/2013 at 2:27 PM

@ Michael – The parking lot on 24th is currently for sale by the city through a bidding process. Feel free to submit a bid on it if you have specific plans for it. Mr. Bilder’s theater property does have a significant amount of retail space on the first floor, so feel free to open your business, restaurant, or brewpub there.

I do agree with you that we are at risk of overloading our market with apartments right now, but I think Mr. Bilder should be applauded for his willingness to compromise with the community. His current plans for the theater are much better (and less lucrative for him) than the original plans he presented, and also much better than the current dilapidated building that sits there now.

Joshua Bilder 08/15/2013 at 2:53 PM

I appreciate the support from everyone in the community. It’s an honor for me to work with the neighborhood and the City on this project.

Michael 08/15/2013 at 3:12 PM

John, I am nearly certain you work for Bilder or are Bilder himself, so please cut the crap on the post acting as if you are unbiased and this is an open process.

The property is only being considered for sale to Bilder and has been communicated as such directly to me by the City. They are not considering other buyers other than Mr. Bilder and are actively working to block anyone else from successfully buying the property.

Yes, I have offered plans for the building as a brewpub and have been told not to waste my time as the city is holding it for Bilder’s movie theater residential development.

Renting a tiny spot from Bilder in his apartment complex as a brew house is a non-starter and you know that. Ordering brewing equipment to shoehorn into a corner for a tiny space, and then Bilder ups the rent in 5 years and you are left to either pay up or move. As a very close neighbor of the building, we also stand to lose by seeing this turned into residential. What a waste.

ray 08/15/2013 at 3:14 PM

Has the input of the impacted neighbors in the immediate area surrounding the theater been solicited?

Tavo 08/15/2013 at 3:26 PM

Wow! This is going to be amazing. I can’t wait.

Jim 08/15/2013 at 3:37 PM

Not everyone in the community supports you or your project, Bilder. Some of us know you personally, and are aware of your quick temper and shady ways. Just remember Sir, not everyone you deal with on a day to day basis are “stupid fat f**ks!”

Neighbor 08/15/2013 at 3:58 PM

Apartments wouldn’t be my first choice for the use of this space, but I’m so happy someone is renovating that building. At least there will be some commercial space on the property. I was impressed with the presentation at the meeting last night and the developer’s willingness to compromise. I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product!

John M 08/15/2013 at 3:59 PM

@ray – the meeting that I attended on Tuesday was specifically for neighbors in the immediate area.

With only 9 people in attendance, I chided them for not making it more inclusive.

ray 08/15/2013 at 4:08 PM

Thank you, John.

And, “Jim”, be nice! 🙂

Morgan 08/15/2013 at 4:56 PM


Another reason Carytown is so successful is due to the amount of mixed-housing immediately surrounding the area.

You try and get a hold of one of the blighted, vacant houses in the area and tell me how successful you are.

Alex 08/15/2013 at 11:27 PM

Do these 38 spots actually exist somewhere or are they just a theoretical share of the street parking? I’m curious how many blocks around the theater one would need to go to park 38 cars on an average night.

Just a thought – when considering retail options for this, it might be good to ensure whatever goes in here will mostly be drawing walking business. This probably means not a restaurant as most of the restaurants here that do well draw a fair bit from off the hill.

Michael 08/16/2013 at 3:24 AM

@Morgan-Clearly you have never been to Carytown.

Go take a walk in Carytown sometime and take a look at all the cars. The patrons drive from other locations of the city in order to shop and dine in a high business density, walkable environment. That’s what makes Carytown successful. Mixed housing has nothing to do with Carytown’s success. Are you seriously argueing that a tenant in a 600 square foot rental is dining at Can Can or having a glass of wine at Secco? Or similarly that one of Bilder’s tenants in a 600 square foot theater apartment is going to dine at The Roosevelt or Dutch & Company? No way, these 19 year old students that Bilder is courting, won’t be able to afford it. These prospective renters will bring very little to Church Hill other than rent checks to Bilder if he can find tenants whose parents can reliably pay the rent. Your argument is absurd.

Bill 08/16/2013 at 8:46 AM

I have to say, I would much rather Michael’s idea of a brewpub than yet another bank of apartments & the 1-2 cars attached to each one. With Tobacco Row, River Lofts, the monsters just built across from Dukes & by the McD’s, do we really need more apartments?

Michael 08/16/2013 at 8:59 AM

@Alex-To answer your question, no, the 38 parking spots don’t exist. They are as you stated a theoretical share of the on street parking. Bilder is exploiting a loophole that exempted the theater when used as a theater to not have the required 38 off street spots. He is planning to use that 38 spot exemption to cram 22 units into that theater and put all the cars on the street.

The result will be exactly what Chelsea fears and what we see down at the Cold Storage fiasco on Marshall. Two-way traffic can’t even navigate safely down Marshall at Cold Storage, since the cars are packed in so tight. Bilder wants to bring this same BS up here on top of Church Hill.

To make matters worse, he then will tie up the 24th street parking lot to cover the three additional off street spots he needs for the theater along with the parking for the shoebox apartments he will place in the 24th street building. That 24th and Marshall parking lot which is currently city owned, becomes Bilder’s property and unavailable for any other business/restaurant to meet their parking/zoning requirements.

There is more going on here and more at stake than most folks realize. Once Bilder is granted his SUP, there is no going back. We get left holding the bag which means constantly searching and fighting for parking, crappy shoe box apartments, new businesses blocked out from the 25th Street corridor (absent every single one successfully applying for an SUP going forward because the City gave the 24th Street lot to Bilder), and low income/unemployed new student neighbors who add very little to the economic benefit of Church Hill.

This is a bad deal for Church Hill on so many fronts it is laughable it has gotten this far.

Diana 08/16/2013 at 11:47 AM

The rental market is great in richmond. No problem renting the new units. There will be plenty of MCV med students and incoming new doctors doing their residency that will be interested in those apartments. They have very little free time but when they do they can afford to treat themselves to a good meal.

You have to have the population to support more retail. All this will, inevitably, increase the parking issues. We have to take the good with the bad or keep the status quo. 600 sq. ft. Is very doable for a single person. I’ve lived in a two bedroom condo that was not much bigger and it was just fine for one person.

Mike 08/16/2013 at 12:19 PM

I heard from a number of the immediate neighbors at the CHA meeting, and all seemed pretty positive. With the tone of a number of messages here, it looks like there is one very upset neighbor who is making his viewpoint known. Where was this person on CHA night?

BAF 08/16/2013 at 12:25 PM

Here’s the way I see (not that anyone cares):

–There is a major blighted building on 25th Street.

–Someone (Mr. Bilder) has bought it and has a plan for it that he seems to have gotten at least some neighborhood buy-in for.

–Mr. Bilder’s plan, while perhaps not a dream, is better than leaving the blight in place while waiting for the perfect plan to drop in from the sky.

I am sure that any of you who think you know of a better purpose for the property would be happy to make Mr. Bilder an financial offer acceptable to him for the property so you can realize our vision. No? That’s a problem for you then, isn’t it? Unless you are willing to do that, leaving the blight in place waiting for some knight in shining armor to come and fulfill your fever dream vision for the property, is almost certainly not a better idea than letting Mr. Bilder renovate the place using his modified proposal. At what point do we stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the good because right now, perfect is the friend of the horrible–a blighted, and likely dangerous, eyesore.

One question. Everyone seems up in arms about the parking. Color me confused. This thing was a THEATER. Hundreds of people went there. I suspect many of them drove over. Granted this was decades ago, but where did they park given that many of the current nearby structures existed at the time. Unless I am completely missing something, if it worked OK then (and cars were generally much longer then), the cars for these units will be a drop in the bucket. Besides if you live in a city and are dependent on street parking, you get no guarantee that you can park in front of your doorstep. You can get that guarantee (or near to it) if you want to move to the West End….

Mike 08/16/2013 at 12:36 PM

@33 – Well said.

Diana 08/16/2013 at 1:07 PM


Alex 08/16/2013 at 1:13 PM

@33 – most of them would have walked or taken the trolley back in the day and parking is a real issue but I agree with the overall sentiment of your post.

The discussion should be about what the best parking solution issue at this point. Instead, I think a lot of folks are latching onto the parking as an excuse to say no. If that’s the only issue it can be solved.

Morgan 08/16/2013 at 2:17 PM


Yes. I am one of the renters of a 600 square foot apartment who frequents Can Can and Secco, both of which I walk to. I am not a 19 year old student. Apartments/renting appeals to more than the demographic you speak of.

At this point in time, consider myself turned off from any business you chose to operate. Your whining about what your perceive as a problem is doing nothing to promote what you think is best in the community. Time to move on the Plan B.

Morgan 08/16/2013 at 2:18 PM

@ Michael

And by the way, my apartment was built in the early 20th century as an apartment building. Funny how building trends come full circle.

Michael 08/16/2013 at 5:10 PM

@ Morgan- Kudos to you for your walkable lifestyle, I applaud that. I am willing to bet that the quality and character of your early 20th Century apartment is vastly superior to what Bilder has in mind for his student theater renters.

Don’t worry about there being anything done in the form of a new restaurant, brewpub, etc anywhere in the proximity of the 25th street corridor/Church Hill area. Bilder is working hard to prevent anything of the sort from going in other than apartments. With the elimination of the 24th and Marshall Street parking lot, that will prevent any of these businesses from even having a chance to start. Mark my words, everyone will be scrambling in a few years trying to raise funds to build a community parking deck to attract these types of businesses and cursing under their breath why they let the one they already had at 24th and Marshall slip away.

Many brewpubs/breweries/etc are looking at areas such as Church Hill, Scott’s Addition, and Manchester right now to get started. However, they are struggling to open because of the lack of adequate off street parking that Richmond zoning requires. The ones that have started are now being told their parking is inadequate for their events/occupancy and are having to make drastic changes. Church Hill’s ace in the hole is the 24th and Marshall Street parking lot and it is about to be traded away for cookie cutter apartments which are ubiquitous and add very little to the neighborhood.

Nearby Neighbor 08/16/2013 at 8:26 PM

@Michael, are you the oyster bar guy who is sour grapes because your own real estate deal didn’t go through? Your personal attacks against Bilder are misplaced. Be mad at the City for its grandfathering process and parking overlay. And the other neighbors who have been showing up to the meetings and saying they don’t want more parking lots. Or yourself for not being real estate savvy. This guy has been having meetings all over the place and has worked in good faith to answer every complaint. Also, he has 3500 rsf of commercial retail space in the theater.

Michael 08/17/2013 at 12:26 AM

@Nearby Neighbor-I don’t want additional parking lots either. That said, I also don’t want the allocation of the only city lot at 24th & Marshall given to Bilder by the City for his exclusive use for residential apartments thereby making it unavailable to all other future businesses per city zoning.

For the record, we have been to every meeting we have been invited to attend concerning the theater project.

And who is making personal attacks? Not real estate savvy, sour grapes, really? The problem is I Do Get It, and am savvy to what is really going on and pointing out the obvious problems caused by Bilder’s plan. I care about this neighborhood and want to see it flourish. I wouldn’t have chosen to live here for the past 11 years if that wasn’t the case. I also wouldn’t have offered my own personal funds to fix up the dilapidated building at 24th only to find out all the shenanigans going on behind the scenes that are preventing it from being fixed up. I was simply tired of seeing the property sitting and deteriorating for the 11 years I lived nearby, so I made an offer to buy and fix it directly to the owner, the City of Richmond. Since then, I have become disgusted with all the back door politicking I discovered was going on regarding this project. I have no need for a real estate score per a special deal from the city to enrich myself- that’s Bilder’s realm, not mine. I am simply a neighbor who actually lives here and was trying to help.

Eric Huffstutler 08/17/2013 at 5:24 PM

BAF, the East End Theater was built during the depression era of the 1930s. Realize that America then was women staying at home (it was rare for a woman to work and frowned upon) and so had no need of a car. They took the bus or trolley or walked to local mom and pop businesses. If the household even had a car it was only one and no more unless you were super rich. So, parking was not an issue. The theater actually closed its doors after a string of arson issues in 1970 so has been abandoned for 43-years! A lot has happened by way of families since then and their daily habits.

I personally hope that the building comes to fruition to see the face back to its original glory complete with the original sidewalk marquee as proposed. It will NEVER be a theater again since the previous owners gutted everything out years ago and it has sat as a hollow shell with no roof on it at all the past 10 years. There were talks of a wine and cheese shop but that fell through. Then a dinner theater but again people wouldn’t support it.

Yes, parking is the real issue here and we have a battle with it on any block that has a retail business because these buildings were built either before the days of automobiles or when people took public transportation on a regular basis. I remember as a kid my mother taking me downtown back home on the bus to shop. That was an era when people dressed up to be seen in the public… women wore gloves, hats, jewelry and makeup to go shopping. Men in suits or shirt and ties, nothing less. But getting back to parking – even the grandfathered spaces are not enough. I am a bit perplexed because some buildings have been zoned differently? I mean back around 2008 when a corner building wanted to change the type of business it was zoned for, it required 13 additional off street parking spaces within 300 feet from it. But now that isn’t true yet there are not enough spaces for those living on the blocks and a retail business to so what do you do?

clay st resident 08/17/2013 at 9:30 PM

Interesting to read that the developer is “having meetings all over the place” when I live within 3 blocks of this proposed project and have never seen a notice about any meetings. In general, I am supportive of this project but the parking situation does concern me. I don’t want to see parking in Churchill become as bad as it is in the fan.

Lucky Canine 08/18/2013 at 10:36 AM

I live in the same block as the Lava Lofts and parking was a huge issue around that project. I will say that parking has become more of a challenge now that the building is finished and full. The biggest change for our block is having that building used rather than vacant. I had a big problem with loitering, drinking, drugs in the alley behind my house and that’s all gone now.

JessOfRVA 08/19/2013 at 2:03 AM

I certainly hope Michael is incorrect about the 24th Street space. That space is so cool, but it would be such a waste to make it into housing.

Eric Huffstutler 08/22/2013 at 3:57 PM

So, everyone wants improvements but no one wants to sacrifice anything for them? You know the old saying.. “You can’t have your cake and eat it too”.

Joshua Bilder 09/18/2013 at 9:27 AM

Thank you Church Hill Association and everyone who supports the project. While its been challenging, Its fulfilling to have worked with the community and city to develop this plan. I’m looking forward to the future and further co-operation with the community. Sincerely, Joshua Bilder

Alex 09/18/2013 at 10:31 AM

Congrats Mr. Bilder. Please do consider trying to go above and beyond with parking though. I realize legally you are allowed to get by with a bunch of phantom spots but it would really help you earn the neighborhood’s support even further if you were to do more than minimum here.

Overall, best of luck and thanks for working with the community.

Any chance you could find a home for Captain Buzzy’s in that commercial space?

John M 10/24/2013 at 11:54 AM

Restaurant Space in Historic Church Hill Theater (418 N 25th St)

John M 11/07/2013 at 6:01 AM Reply
Eric Huffstutler 01/15/2014 at 1:23 PM

Josh, it has been a while since you have chimed in to let us know the latest on the East End Theatre project.

Eric Huffstutler 01/16/2014 at 12:21 PM

I see new artist concept design posters on the front of the building (today?). Must be something happening soon?

Eric Huffstutler 02/20/2014 at 2:27 PM

OK… now see some activity here but no one has chimed in to say what the current status and plans are? I also haven’t heard from Josh lately either?

crd 02/21/2014 at 9:11 AM

@Eric 55, are there any permits posted on the building? I’m not seeing any in the city’s permit database, so I’m curious. Thanks.

Eric Huffstutler 02/21/2014 at 2:02 PM

The database takes a while, sometimes weeks, to be updated so the only way to know for sure is to call. I will also ask where I can.

Eric Huffstutler 02/21/2014 at 2:09 PM

Actually, there are two current permits on file showing in the database for address 418 N 25th Street…

B13101112 issued 10/23/2013 for demolition of existing interior.

B14013005 pending 1/31/2014 for Install Deep Foundation For Future Structure.

Both were applied for by Ryan Goodrich of J.D. Lewis Construction of Vienna, VA

crd 02/21/2014 at 9:26 PM

Thanks, Eric!

Joshua Bilder 02/23/2014 at 10:31 AM

Please visit for more information on me, my company and the project. Thanks. Sincerely, Joshua Bilder

Eric S. Huffstutler 07/23/2014 at 3:09 PM

Occasionally I hear from Josh Bilder and he provided me with the currrent update about the theater building’s progress since currently on the exterior it is hard to tell what is going on .

” We’ve stabilized the building put a roof on it, installed water utility service and have poured the concrete on the first floor. The structural steel for the first floor has also been installed. So has the elevator tower. In another few days we will begin framing the building. You should be able to see the progress then. “

Eric S. Huffstutler 06/04/2015 at 10:45 PM

I absolutely hate the way they cut the windows into the side of the original building. A 10-year old could have done a better job…sloppy brick and mortar work. Unlike the Cold Storage buildings where they cut the windows out without disturbing the other bricks and so look like they have always been there. Take a look at them next time on the south side of the theater building from the post office direction. Ugh! I hope they paint over it.


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