Phoenix Bank plans altered

Published 10:23 pm Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Phoenix Bank project is in its second round of requests for proposals after the first bids came in above the amount available for the project.

The Phoenix Bank on East Washington Street has sat vacant for many years. City leaders recently changed specifications on the project to get bids to come in cheaper.

The city received four bids Oct. 13, ranging from $911,730 to $1.1 million. Only $890,000 is available for the project.

The city hopes to renovate the abandoned bank building into offices for the Department of Economic Development and the Economic Development Authority. Officials also are exploring the feasibility of a small business incubator in the building, according to a letter to City Council members from City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn.

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Assistant City Manager Patrick Roberts said some changes have been made to the project to make the bids come in under budget.

Officials deleted the parking lot from the project and will renovate it later separately, Roberts said. Also, they changed some requirements for such things as doors, windows and carpeting. The winning bidder will be permitted to use less costly products as long as they still meet standard specifications, he said.

The bank, located at 341 E. Washington St., was established in 1919 by a group of black entrepreneurs. It served the black farmers and laborers of Suffolk and Nansemond County until its demise in 1931, during the throes of the Great Depression.

Since the bank’s closure, the building has sat vacant except for a few restaurants that operated out of the first floor. The second floor was divided into several rooms to create four apartments that are no longer in use.

This isn’t the first time plans have changed for the renovation project. Initially, it was intended as a black history museum and the centerpiece of The Fairgrounds revitalization project. In 2009, city leaders made the decision to place the economic development department there, instead.

The building is listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.